The Fort Payne Wildcats’ varsity boys and girls soccer teams both clinched 6A, Area 13 championships with hard fought wins over the Albertville Aggies this past week.
The No. 3-ranked boys team defeated the rival Aggies 2-1 on the road Tuesday and the No. 9-ranked Lady Wildcats topped Albertville at home Wednesday by a final score of 3-2.
Both Wildcat teams capped off perfect 4-0 runs through area play with their wins and earned the right to host their first-round playoff games.
Here are recaps of both Wildcat victories:
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The Lady Wildcats earned their first area title since 2016 thanks to a strong start along with a late goal that sealed the win after the Lady Aggies came back to knot the score.
“I felt like we started out controlling the game fairly well,” Lady Wildcats head coach Eddy Bolton said. “We definitely had some opportunities early that we didn’t cash in on that we would like to have.”
Those early opportunities eventually allowed the Lady Wildcats to strike first when junior Taylor Bolton scored on a goal that was assisted by Maggie Crow.
Fort Payne went on to hold that 1-0 lead through halftime.
The Lady ‘Cats later stretched their lead to two when Bolton attempted a free kick from outside the penalty box. Bolton’s kick went just over the Albertville keeper’s head and found the back of the net to stretch the lead to 2-0.
Fort Payne then tried to hold off the Lady Aggies’ attack for the remaining time on the clock, but Albertville eventually powered through for a pair of late goals to tie the score at 2-all.
Just seconds after the Lady Aggies’ equalizer, Fort Payne sophomore Joselyn Ruiz put the ball in the back of the net, which proved to be the difference in Wednesday matchup.
“I was very proud of them,” coach Bolton said. “To win all four of our area games, that was one of our big goals from the start of the season. We were wanting to settle it on the field and not have to worry about any tiebreakers.”
Had the Lady Wildcats fallen to Albertville Wednesday, it’s possible that Fort Payne could have finished as the area runner-up for a third straight year due to AHSAA tiebreakers. The last two years, those area runner-up finishes have been followed by first-round playoff losses by the Lady ‘Cats.
This year’s squad has proven that they can play well against high-level competition after defeating highly ranked teams such as Albertville, Cullman and Guntersville.
“I don’t think there’s any limit to how far they can go,” coach Bolton said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time. Naturally, we qualified to host a playoff game and we’re not going to try to look past that.”
The Lady ‘Cats still have four regular-season bouts remaining, including their senior night game against Collinsville, before they start their playoff run. Bolton said the team will try to continue to improve down the stretch.
“I think some of our 1-on-1 play needs to improve, whether it be 1-on-1 with other players on the field or with the goalkeepers,” coach Bolton said. “We’ve had issues with that and need to work on it. We also just need to continue to work on our fundamentals. This is a very talented group of girls. They play a smart game of soccer, but at times, they still drop off sometimes on the simple things. When we do that, that’s when people take advantage against us. So, that’s where our focus is going to be over these next few games.”
The Lady Wildcats are riding a 4-game winning streak and will try to make five wins in a row Tuesday when they travel to face Indian Springs.
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Death, taxes and Fort Payne’s varsity boys soccer team winning area titles.
Those are three things that have been certain over the past dozen years as the Wildcats locked up their 12th consecutive area championship with Tuesday’s 2-1 win on the road over the Albertville Aggies.
The Wildcats had a bit of a slow start as Albertville put several more shots on target in the first half than Fort Payne did. The ‘Cats didn’t allow the Aggies to strike first though.
Late in the half, Fort Payne got their first shot off that was on target and made it count as sophomore Ruben Robles found the back of the net on a goal that was assisted by Ismael Lorenzo in the 28th minute.
The Wildcats went on to carry that 1-0 lead into the break despite Albertville creating more early scoring opportunities.
Fort Payne head coach Tom Shanklin said that a halftime adjustment helped turn the momentum back in their favor.
“After a halftime talk, we then had eight shots on frame to their three,” Shanklin said. “We had a bit of a formation change and the boys responded and played really well.”
The Wildcats kept the Aggies from scoring during live play throughout Tuesday match, but Albertville did capitalize on a penalty kick just 4:30 into the second half to tie it up at 1-all.
That tie didn’t last for long though as Erin Escobar got a chance to attempt a penalty kick just 76 seconds after the Aggies scored on theirs.
Escobar put his shot past the Aggies’ keeper to make the score 2-1.
The Wildcats possessed the ball for the majority of the second half, limiting Albertville’s chances to counter as they held on for the win.
Freshman keeper Alex McPherson had another strong night defending the net for Fort Payne. The Wildcats have allowed just four goals during their active 4-game winning streak.
“He [Alex] had a wonderful night,” Shanklin said. “He only allowed the PK, and that’s almost a given against any kind of decent shooter. Obviously in the first half alone, he had a bunch of saves. Then in the second half our guys stepped up and kept control of the ball. He’s settling in to the role that we need him to play. He’s playing well above his age and is doing the things we need him to do between the posts.”
Shanklin said that the team is always excited to win another area title, but that they also know that they are still several big wins away from getting back to the 6A state finals after finishing as state runner-up a year ago.
“You don’t get rings for area championships,” Shanklin said. “They understand that yes it’s great to win an area championship, but the blue trophy is what we’re after. They’ve been here before and know that this isn’t our pinnacle. They know that we still have a lot of work to do and I think it’s a really good thing for us to have that mindset.”
Fort Payne faces some tough competition next week as they prepare to make another playoff run.
The Wildcats will face Westminster, Georgia today at 3:30 p.m. in a neutral-site game at McCallie School in Chattanooga. Westminster is the top-ranked team in Georgia’s AAA class and is ranked among the best high school teams in the country by USA Today.
On Wednesday the Wildcats will play Collierville, Tennessee, who is ranked No. 9 in Tennessee’s AAA class, at Vestavia Hills.
The Wildcats will aim to capitalize on more of their scoring opportunities as they get ready for what is sure to be another tough playoff run.
We’re getting our shots and we’re putting them on frame, but we’re not finding the corners and not getting balls in the back of the net,” Shanklin said. “So that’s something we’ll continue to work on. As we get into the playoffs, we’re only going to get so many scoring opportunities each game, so we’ve got to make them count.”