Oak Mountain girls bring home school’s 4th state championship
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
HUNTSVILLE – Walking off the field last season following a 4-0 win against No. 1 Vestavia Hills, the Eagles felt like there was more to prove after the season was canceled a day later, which led to them creating the motto of “Rewriting the ending.”
The Eagles set out on a path to prove they were the best this season, and on Saturday, May 8, they did just that behind five combined goals from Kierson McDonald and Kaitlin Maynard to take down Enterprise 5-0 and claim the school’s fourth state championship at Huntsville’s John Hunt Park.
“It’s an amazing feeling really,” head coach Chris Blight said after the win. “Obviously they’ve worked so incredibly hard. Ever since last season ended early for us, we were very motivated. We had something to still accomplish, and this isn’t just for this group, it’s for the seniors last year. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The championship win marked the first since 2015 and first of Blight’s career with the Eagles, which led to an emotional moment between he and his wife and son, who he embraced with hugs after the win for all of the sacrifices they made due to his hard work.
“It’s an emotional moment,” Blight said trying to hold back tears. “You know, it takes a lot to be a coach’s wife and spending a lot of time away from them. They’re a big part of this too, so I’m very grateful for them.”
It also led to emotional hugs between the team and the head coach and his players for all of the hard work they poured in to creating a different ending this season.
After the final seconds ticked off, they all ran to embrace in a dog pile before sharing hugs and grabbing the blue map championship trophy.
“I cannot even put into words what this feels like. We’ve worked so hard all season all together,” McDonald said after her hat-trick performance. “We had kind of a rough patch in the middle but we just persevered and we’re here. It feels amazing because everyone put in so much.”
After beating Vestavia Hills in a top-three battle the day before, the Eagles were tired, but they were also confident heading into the championship match with Enterprise.
That led to a methodical start from the two teams, but Oak Mountain eventually seized command of the game and never let up.
Midway through the first half, McDonald gave the Eagles the lead off a free kick—something she has excelled in all year.
The sophomore lined up her free shot from 35 yards out and sent a high-arching shot over the goalie’s hands for the lead with 20:52 to play in the half.
“I practice a lot of them in practice,” McDonald said of her free-kick situations. “I stay after and make sure I’m always ready for the game. When I step up to the ball, I just tell myself ‘I can do this, I can do this.’ I pick a spot and just try to hit it as hard as I can.”
It looked like that may be the only goal of the half, but 14 minutes later, McDonald struck in a different way.
Off another free kick, she bent a ball into the box that found the foot of Kaitlin Maynard, who popped it toward the goal and off a defender’s head into the net for a 2-0 lead with 6:42 left in the half.
“Such special talent, you know,” Blight said of McDonald and Maynard. “They’re not just great soccer players, they’re great leaders. That’s shown with the way that they play, the way they help the younger girls. They push everyone else to get better every day. You can’t ask more of your best players.”
That became the halftime score, but the day was just getting started for both of those players.
Maynard scored her second goal 2:37 into the second half thanks to a rocket from the top of the penalty arc that she buried into the back of the net.
With a three-goal cushion, the Eagles now had a comfortable lead, but they didn’t let up.
McDonald scored her second goal of the game 12 minutes later on another free kick from close to 40 yards out and then less than two minutes later, she added her hat-trick on another free kick from just outside the right side of the penalty box to make it 5-0.
“It feels amazing,” McDonald said of her hat trick performance. “I was really tired from yesterday, so it was kind of like, thank God, you know. I can’t even put it into words. I’m just in shock.”
The Eagles went on to finish off the 5-0 win to claim the championship and post their 17th shutout of the season and third of the playoffs, including two clean sheets in the Final Four.
“We carried the saying of rewriting the ending with us everywhere, and we just had to believe in what we were doing throughout every practice and game,” Blight said. “We faced a bit of adversity throughout the year and overcame that. It’s all credit to these girls. They’re incredible.”
Oak Mountain only has two seniors, which both Blight and McDonald said will help this year’s 22-3-1 state championship team grow even stronger next year, but it also gave them a chance to send Maynard and Nooni Syed out with a special memory.
“These are moments that a lot of people never get to feel. I’m so happy for them and what they put in,” Blight said of the seniors. “I hope they take this forward and take it onto college and whatever they do in life. That’s what this is all about.”
Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.
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