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GK: Mackenzie Stephens, Elmore County sophomore

After suffering an ugly start to the season, Stephens and the Panthers kept four clean sheets in their final 12 matches and allowed more than two goals just once in that span. Stephens’ biggest moment came when she stopped three consecutive penalties to earn her team a shootout victory against section rival Holtville. “She’s a perfectionist and it shows with how hard she works,” ECHS coach Angie Simmons said. “She wants to learn things that are completely foreign to her. What changed this year was her comfort and her aggressiveness in the goal and leading her defense.”

 

D: Kendall Downey, Elmore County junior

After suffering a leg injury while playing basketball, Downey had to sit out the first six games of the season and the Panthers struggled without her. She came back to lead the back line which allowed 21 goals in the first five games and Downey made an immediate impact. After playing in the final 11 games, Downey finished with three goals and three assists while helping keep three clean sheets as the team’s top center back. Six of the team’s seven wins came after Downey returned from her injury. “She wants to be the best she can be and she worked hard for it,” ECHS coach Angie Simmons said. “She’s so competitive and wants to win every game.”

D: Hailey Holbert, Wetumpka sophomore

Wetumpka ran into some struggles during the 2019 season but the team’s strength in the back helped hide some of those gaps. Holbert played in the center of the defense and was the anchor in four clean sheets during 18 matches. She played the entire 80 minutes in 16 of those matches and most of the younger players looked to her for on-field leadership. “She really kept our backline straight during the game,” Wetumpka coach Jessica Holbert said. “She made a lot of big stops for us back there. Her verbal leadership was a big thing for us, especially for our young goalkeepers.”

D: Madison Reeves, Holtville sophomore

After taking two years off from the school team, Reeves returned to play a vital role for Holtville’s defense. She played in all 14 matches, helping the Bulldogs keep six clean sheets. Reeves was the leader on a defense which allowed two goals or less in 10 matches. She played in the center of Holtville’s defense but Reeves also scored two goals and was named the team’s MVP. “She was probably the main reason we had as many shutouts as we did,” Holtville coach David Lovering said. “When the rest of the players knew she was back there, everyone was more comfortable and gave the whole team more confidence.”

D: Joya Kiwele, Elmore County senior

In her second season with the Panthers, Kiwele provided some help with consistency on the team’s back line. Kiwele had a good mixture of speed, experience and soccer IQ to allow her to be in the right position when Elmore County needed a last line of defense. Kiwele helped lead the Panthers to three clean sheets and scored two goals on the season. “She was more of a quiet leader for us,” ECHS coach Angie Simmons said. “Her knowledge of the game helped us a lot. She gave our team a sense of comfort when she was back there and our defense was not the same when she wasn’t out there.”

D: Marley Candelaria, Wetumpka sophomore

It is rare to find a natural fullback at the high school level but Candelaria made the job look easy. Candelaria excelled at getting the ball up the right side to start several attacks per game but when she was called on to defend, she was one of the most reliable players on the backline for Wetumpka. Candelaria played the entirety of 16 matches and scored a goal in a section win over Stanhope Elmore. “She plays that position very well,” Wetumpka coach Jessica Holbert said. “She can carry the ball all the way up the field but still runs back to defend her spot. I have more confidence in her in that position than I do for anyone else.”

M: Emily Temple, Tallassee senior

Despite another year without a girls soccer team at Tallassee, Temple continued to improve and was a force for the varsity boys squad this season. She started as a central midfielder in all 16 matches and finished the season with three goals and two assists for the Tigers. Temple helped her team get its first win of the season with a goal in a 4-1 victory against Valley on Senior Night. Temple signed a scholarship to play soccer at Faulkner University next season. “We had her in the central midfield for a reason,” Tallassee coach Katie Rigsby said. “She really got our offense going because you can’t score if you can’t pass and she was our best at passing. She really improved and earned that spot.”

M: Arrie Slauson, Wetumpka senior

Slauson was often the key to the Indians attack but she brought a unique skill to the table. It did not take long for opponents to figure out Slauson’s ability to shoot from distance but that did not stop her from scoring three goals this season. Her 34-yard strike against Stanhope may have been the goal of the season and she also added one of her four assists on the season in a 2-1 win over the section rivals. “She has a love for the game more than anyone I’ve ever coached,” Wetumpka coach Jessica Holbert said. “We did books for all of the seniors at the end of the season and all of the comments in hers were about her passion for the game. The other girls saw that.”

M: Nora Malpica, Holtville freshman

If Holtville needed to fill a position on the field, the Bulldogs often looked to Malpica and she welcomed each challenge. She spent time all over the pitch and eventually finished the season with five goals, including a brace against Valley during a section victory. Malpica scored four of her goals during section play and added several assists to help the Holtville offense average 2.6 goals per game. “She did a little bit of everything for us,” Holtville coach David Lovering said. “She barely came off the field because we moved her all over. She was comfortable anywhere we put her and excelled at all of it.”

M: Victoria Cortes, Stanhope Elmore junior

There was nothing easy about Stanhope’s season but Cortes was the constant bright spot during her fourth season as a starter. When the Mustangs needed a goal, Cortes was often the one to deliver it, scoring 12 goals as a midfielder. She started the season with a five-goal performance in a 5-2 victory over West Point during the Capital of Dreams Tournament at AUM. Stanhope scored only five goals in its final 13 matches of the season but all of them came from Cortes. “She is the core of our team,” Stanhope coach Dawn Kelly said. “She plays as hard as she possibly can in every game. You could tell this year was tough for her but she’s hung in there.”

F: Hannah Westbrook, Holtville senior

Westbrook took on the true role of striker for the Bulldogs, having a direct impact on 54 percent of the goals Holtville scored this season. She finished with a team-high 15 goals while adding five assists. Westbrook scored in nine of the 13 matches she appeared in, including a four-goal performance in a section win over Valley. She finished her high school career with a program-record 40 goals. “She was always taking over the game for us,” Holtville coach David Lovering said. “In any of those games we won, she was the one scoring multiple goals. She just wanted it more than anyone else out there. All the other girls looked to her.”

Honorable Mention

Wetumpka: Madison Milton, 8th, GK; Emily Smith, 7th, M; Kiley Sisson, 8th, D; ECHS: Faith Crozier, sr., F; Casandra Sanchez, sr., M; Kyle Wright, sr., D; Stanhope Elmore: Katie Moses, so., D; Valeria Lopez, jr., D/M; Holtville: Kennedy Grier, sr., GK; Ana Segarra, fr., M; Whitney Culverhouse, so., M

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.