Lions capture eighth soccer title

Briarwood Christian School senior Anna Kathryn (A.K.) Hall couldn’t have had a worse experience in the 2009 Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 5A Final Four.

Hall suffered a broken leg minutes into the Lions’ semifinal contest against St. Paul’s, which became a devastating loss in Briarwood’s storied record books.

In the midst of the adversity Hall learned an important lesson during her rehabilitation, which took months.

“The whole team was there for me,” Hall said.

Hall and her teammates returned to Huntsville seeking the eighth state soccer championship in school history. The Lions (15-6-3) put their 2009 disappointment behind them with a 4-2 win over Spanish Fort in the Class 5A championship game May 8 at John Hunt Park in Huntsville.

Briarwood freshman forward Sara Smeltzer, the Class 5A tournament’s most valuable player, scored two second-half goals to lead the Lions to the title.

“I did not think I would get the award,” Smeltzer said. “It means the world to me.”

Fellow freshman forward Abbie Cutcliffe added a penalty-kick goal early in the second half and Marie Tucker capped the scoring for the Lions with a goal late in the contest.

Briarwood coach Ryan Leib said the entire senior class, including Hall, deserved to go out on top.

“They really had a lot of ups and downs,” Leib said. “It’s awesome for them to win a championship.”

Senior Julia Hoke, who came up short in attempts to win a volleyball and basketball championship during her senior year, said the successful trip to Huntsville has given her a sense of accomplishment.

“The last chance and I finally got it,” Hoke said. “It feels amazing.”

Leib said the 2010 Briarwood team featured a nice mix of veterans and young players, who were the key to the Lions’ championship run.

“It’s a great mix of experienced veterans and youthful talent,” Leib said. “The younger players were just going out there and playing. It’s an exciting future.”