A win for above: Westminster honors Headley with school’s first state championship
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
HUNTSVILLE – It was almost as if help from above was present as Westminster at Oak Mountain junior Morgan White took a shot with five seconds left in overtime of the Class 1A-3A State Championship game.
Having made a couple of dribbles to her right to make a defender miss, White found an opening, and knew she had to take it from 35 yards out with time running down.
The ball left her foot, and never strayed from the net taking a direct path to the top center of the net where it slid right over the hands of the Altamont keeper to lead the Knights to a 3-2 overtime victory for their first state championship in school history.
But school history is just part of the story.
Four months ago, on Jan. 7, the coach that roamed the sideline with them a year ago passed away from a valiant fight against cancer, and at the time, the school and the soccer team were devastated, but with the tragedy came an added member to the team—Ken Headley now roaming the sideline from above.
When White’s desperation final shot was heading toward the goal and hit the back of the net, head coach Jay Hammond knew exactly what Headley’s reaction was.
“He was jumping for joy from the heavens when that goal went in,” Hammond said. “It was raining, and we literally just said Ken was bringing the rain for us to enjoy the game, because all of our girls said they love playing in the rain, and I said ‘Well, Ken brought this for you, so let’s honor him and win this one for him.’ We went out on a high note for Ken.”
It was a game full of emotional twists and turns as Westminster scored in the first 40 seconds of the game after White flew up the left side of the field and crossed the ball into the box for a waiting Tori Deen, who buried the first shot of the game to put the Knights on top 1-0 quickly, which also helped her earn MVP honors of the Final Four.
It took a while for Altamont to get going, but they eventually found an answer when they earned a free kick from 30 yards out. The shot was initially touched by the keeper, but was difficult to handle on a wet, rainy night, as it slipped into the net to tie the game 1-1 with 22 minutes remaining in the half.
After going into the half tied 1-1, the Knights came out again and quickly put together some momentum.
That’s when White’s stellar half of play started.
Coming into the game searching for her 100th career goal, White was battling through a knee injury to help her team after getting tripped up the day before in the semifinals.
“She picked up that injury in the semifinal game and we weren’t really sure how much she was going to play, but she came to me today in the hotel and said ‘coach, you’re going to have to drag me off the field; you’re not telling me I’m not playing,” Hammond said.
With 31:12 left in the second half, the first of her two difference-making goals went in, and who knew just how special each would be. Her first of the half came when she fired a rocket directly into the back of the net to give Westminster a 2-1 lead in the state championship with 31 minutes to play.
For a while, it looked like that special goal would be the difference in taking home the state championship, but that drastically changed in the final minutes.
With just more than four minutes to play in the game, Altamont’s Ava Muller found some space near the top right corner of the box, and fired a shot that ended up crossing into the goal for the equalizer.
That shot saved Altamont’s season for the time being and forced overtime, giving them all of the momentum.
Overtime went about like the final four minutes of regulation, as each team tried to push the ball and end the game, but neither was having success, and it looked as if the game was surely headed to a second overtime as the final seconds ticked away.
That’s when White found herself with the ball close to 40 yards away from the goal in the left-center of the field, before dribbling to her right a couple of times and releasing a shot with hope and prayer that it would find the back of the net.
And with two seconds still on the clock, it did.
Almost in disbelief, it took a second for White and the Knights to realize what had just happened, before everybody sprinted to White, tackled her to the ground and celebrated what they had just done.
Then, each player got up and hugged White as tears started to flow after realizing the special accomplishment.
“For her to score her 100th goal the way she did, it was awesome, and then to then have her 101st goal on the game winner was even more unbelievable,” Hammond said. “She’s a great kid, man. Honestly, it’s just surreal.”
With her last-second overtime goal, the Knights picked up a 3-2 victory to claim their first state championship in school history, while also honoring the one who started it all for them a year ago.
“Ken started this,” Hammond said. “Ken came in last year with this group and they were building to get here. We found out on that Monday that he had passed, and that was a huge emotional up and down roller coaster for them. For these girls to be where they are now after where they were, they deserve everything that just happened.”
Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.