Chelsea seniors leave special legacy despite title game loss

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HUNTSVILLE –  After giving up two unanswered goals in the final 10:36 of the Class 6A State Championship game, the Chelsea Hornets girls’ soccer team was full of emotion after the final seconds ticked off to give Homewood their first win in school history, and while that moment will sting for a while, the memory will eventually shift to the accomplishment this group was able to achieve.

In a season where Chelsea spent the majority of the year ranked No. 1 with a final overall record of 21-3-1, the Hornets moved on to their second state championship in three years, and for the seniors, it marked the end of a legacy they helped start.

The five seniors on the team were also helpful in the 2017 state championship team, and bringing Chelsea back to glory. That is what they’ll be remembered for, while the returning players will have redemption on their mind rather than the hurt.

“This group of seniors, they’re going to be the most decorated bunch,” head coach Jonathan Hammett said trying to hold back tears. “They’ve played in two state championship games, winning one of them, most wins in program history in a four-year career, and a lot of records broken. They would’ve traded it all for a state championship, but that’s what makes them special.”

One of those seniors was Lexie Duca, who set the state assist record for a career, another was Claire Guillen, who was a major contributor and scoring threat. Then you had solid defenders like Carson Reeves, Megan Hurley and Raegan Bailey, all of who played a role in making this team what it has been the last three years.

“They’ve had an impact since their freshman year,” Hammett said. “We were moments away from advancing into the state tournament their freshman year, and then we made it their sophomore year and their senior year.

“That’s a great run for a senior class. I love my payers to death. They’ve had a great run, so hopefully we are still in the middle of that.”

During the game, Chelsea faced some early adversity after falling behind 1-0 15 minutes into the contest after Maggie O’Hare punched through the first goal of the championship game for the Patriots.

But six minutes later, Chelsea had an answer thanks to Kailey Littleford. The junior got the ball, and took advantage of the keeper being out of position sprinting right by her to an open net for the equalizer with 19:16 remaining in the half.

For the rest of the game, however, Homewood keeper Jada Repp was unbelievable despite giving up another goal, which earned her the MVP of the game.

Chelsea continued to test her and the Patriots’ back line not just the remainder of the first half, but the game.

One of Repp’s great saves came when Littleford found herself on another breakaway early in the second half. This time, Littleford beat the defender and got all the way to the top right corner of the goalie box before firing a shot toward the left side.

Repp, however, stuck her leg out and deflected the ball away and out of play to keep the game tied 1-1.

Just a couple of minutes later, Littleford got another breakaway, and this time there wasn’t a chance for Repp, as a foul occurred inside the penalty box.

Chelsea sent Morgan Bright to take the PK, and she buried it into the left side of the net for a 2-1 lead with 24:47 to play.

Over the next few minutes, the Hornets earned three more corners, and a free kick from a foot right of the box, but all of those opportunities passed without another goal.

Then, with 10:36 remaining, came the heartbreak. Homewood’s scored as Chelsea struggled to clear the ball, which led to O’Hare sliding a pass to Eleanor Kyle for the equalizer.

Then, just a 1:18 later, in an almost identical situation to the previous goal, Claire Touliatos got to the left side of the box and hit a shot into the left side of the net for a 3-2 lead with 9:18 to play.

Chelsea had a few more chances over the final nine minutes, including two really good shots on goal, but the Hornets couldn’t find an equalizer to drop a tough 3-2 championship game.

While the seniors helped set the program up for success, now the younger players have a chance to continue what they built and use that heartbreaking loss to fuel them in the 2020 season.

Players like forwards Haley Duca and Littleford will return as two of the most dangerous scoring threats in the state, while goalkeeper MacKenzie Titus, one of the best keepers in the state, will also return in net.

“We’ve got some good players coming back with Haley and Kailey,” Hammett said. “We’ll have to look at replacements in the midfield and defending side of things, but we’ve got some good players standing in line waiting for their turn and I expect them to have an impact.”

For Chelsea’s future, the stage has been set, and for the seniors, the legacy has been left.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.