The Franklin High School Lady Panthers soccer team turned heads this season in the Western North Carolina Athletic Conference when they posted an undefeated season and captured the WNCAC championship for only the second time in school history.
The team ended their season with a playoff loss last Wednesday in a crushing defeat to Fred T. Foard High School who entered the first round of the NCHSAA as a No. 3 seed. The Panthers lost 3-0. Regardless of the outcome, the team still has plenty to be proud of.
In their regular season, the Lady Panthers posted a record of 16-0-1 with the lone blemish coming from a tie in their first game of the season against East Duplin High School. After that contest, the team consistently put up wins and usually in dominating fashion. In eight of the games, including the last three against West Henderson, Tuscola, and Smoky Mountain, the Panthers won complete shut outs.
At the beginning of their season the girls sat down and decided on what their goals were going to be for the season according to senior Kelsey Sheffield.
“We decided on what we wanted to focus on, not necessarily the score, but how we played together as a team and in the end we reached all of our goals including conference champs,” she said. “Our team was like a family. We were really close and we just clicked together.”
Sheffield had played with a lot of the girls since she was five years old playing in recreational leagues and realized that as a senior, this could be her last chance playing on the same field as her FHS teammates.
“When we lost last week, we weren't sad because we lost, we were sad because it was over. We just wanted to keep playing together. We really enjoyed playing and practicing as a team.”
Regardless of how the season ended, the team awed fans all season long and it was evident with the increased size of the crowds that filled the benches at every home game that culminated with the biggest turnout of the season in the final game.
“We are extremely proud of the way the Lady Panthers Soccer team represented Franklin High School,” said FHS principal Chris Baldwin. “An undefeated regular season is very difficult and rare. Coach Esterwood and the team had an outstanding season and have set some high expectations for next year.”
Next year's team will be without seven of the players from the 2013 season. Seniors Sheffield, Jenny Garcia, Kristen Neitz, Brinkley Culpepper, Cassie Doster, Deven Quigley, and Jasmine Hatton will all graduate.
“None of the girls are looking to play at a collegiate level, but I know some of them myself included will continue to play on intramural teams in college,” said Kelsey Sheffield. “I don't think any of us are ready to give up the game just yet.”
This season was one one more block in the program that has been getting stronger and stronger at FHS.
“The girls have had such a great season and Coach Esterwood and her staff have just continued to build the progam,” said Athletic Director Jay Brooks. “This team stood apart because of the way they conducted themselves. They were a very unselfish team. There were quality bench players just like there were quality starters.”
Considering the outlook for next years team and realizing that some effective seniors will be leaving the team, he still believes the team will be just as impressive.
“When you lose such good players like the seniors that will be graduating, it hurts, but that’s how it goes with high school sports. The great part of it is that these underclassmen will have the chance to step up and they will. I think we are going to have another good season next year.”