The Whitley County Lady Colonels soccer team ended its 2018 season with a loss to North Laurel in the semifinal round of this year’s 49th District tournament. It was a heartbreaking result for a talented team that had aspirations of playing in a region tourney for the first time in the program’s history, but that result in no way diminishes the fact that this group has made a lot of history over the last 24 months or so.
Leading the way for the Lady Colonels this fall were five senior players – Jacqueline Oliphant, Jaine Stephens, Haley Hamblin, Haven Gilley and Lilly Rice. When these five came on the scene as freshmen in 2015 the Whitley girls compiled a 4-5-4 overall record, falling to Oneida Baptist Institute in the first round of the district playoffs in a sudden death penalty kick shootout.
The Lady Colonels won 12 games in 2016, but once again fell in a close contest against OBI in the first round of district tournament play, three goals to four.
Despite these early playoff exits, it was clear that this team was trending in the right direction. The wins were coming, and all of a sudden opponents were beginning to pay more attention to seeing the name “Whitley County” on their respective schedules.
History was finally made in 2017 when the Lady Colonels finished the season with a 13-5-1 overall record, second only to North Laurel, who finished with the region’s best record of 17 wins and seven losses. Also that season, Whitley got over the hump and secured the program’s first-ever postseason victory, defeating OBI 8-1 in the first game of the 49th District tourney.
“The first-ever postseason victory was one of the best memories of being on the team,” Jacqueline Oliphant said. “I will never forget the happiness on everyone’s faces. It showed that all of our hard work was finally paying off.”
This past season, the Whitley girls went 8-6-1, including another first time achievement – a 3-2 win over visiting Corbin on September 8.
When asked about that history-making victory, Jaine Stephens said, “Beating Corbin is something that I’ve seen our girls push for since before I could even play varsity. I think it was a well-deserved and hard fought victory. Getting to win that battle in my last year on the field felt so amazing.”
Unfortunately for the Lady Colonels, that win against the Hounds was the last of a five-game win streak to start out the season. What followed was an 0-4 losing skid that was corrected with a 10-0 victory over visiting Bell County on September 25.
Whitley’s next game was another home contest, this time against North Laurel. By then, the Lady Jaguars had established themselves as the region’s top team, but the Colonels would not be intimidated. They went on to lose the game 5-2, although most of the contest was more competitive than the final score might indicate.
Whitley won their regular season finale 5-0 over McCreary Central on October 2, and then eliminated OBI from the 2018 49th District tournament, 5-1. That set up a rematch with North Laurel in the tourney semifinals.
The Lady Colonels were eager to get another shot at the Lady Jags, and they were eager to once again have the opportunity to make history by being the first team in Whitley County soccer history to qualify to compete in a 13th Region tournament. It was not to be, however, as this time North dominated en route to a 10-0 victory.
Even though the Colonels fell short of their goal of appearing in a region tourney this year, what they accomplished together cannot be denied. They are set up to do even more big things in the future, with several talented underclassmen returning to key roles on the field next season, but as for the five outgoing seniors, Head Coach Kelly Sawyers said, “This was a special group. They helped our program achieve a 37-21-5 record over their high school career. Each one of these ladies contributed greatly to our program, and they all leave big shoes to fill. They will not only be missed for their on-field achievements, but also because of the great young women, and role models, that they have become.”
“My experience as a Lady Colonel soccer player has been amazing,” said Haven Gilley. “Every year I got to meet new girls, and reunite with my old friends. I feel like some of the girls on the team know me better than I know myself. They’ve seen me at my worst, and they’ve seen me at my best, but they’ve all been there for me when I needed them to be.”
Adding to that, Lilly Rice said, “I have been surrounded by a group of girls that are supportive and uplifting. I’ve been given the opportunity to remain healthy and fit while being a part of a team that has allowed me to grow to my highest potential as a leader.”
All five Lady Colonel soccer seniors will now move on to other sports and/or activities before graduating from WCHS in the spring. Rice is involved in theater as the president of the International Thespian Society Troupe #8310. The troupe will perform The Anatomy of Gray in the high school cafeteria November 1-2 before taking the show to Eastern Kentucky Regional Competition on November 3 at Madison Southern High School in Berea.
Haley Hamblin, who unfortunately sustained a lower leg injury during this year’s playoff game against OBI, is hoping to be back to 100 percent by the time the 2019 tennis season gets underway.
Jacqueline Oliphant and Jaine Stephens will both be competing in other sports that they have excelled in over the years – bowling for Oliphant, and wrestling for Stephens.
As for Gilley, she is looking forward to finishing out her high school career before going on to study cosmetology at Somerset Community College.
Photo courtesy of SCOTT POWELL