By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Player of the year:
(G)Kat Stratton, Tupelo
Kat Stratton has seen the photograph on facebook. It’s an image frozen for eternity.
What Tupelo’s goalkeeper sees is her arms extended and her glove-covered right hand inches from the ball.
“My hand’s right there,” said Stratton, the Daily Journal’s 2012 Girls Player of the Year in high school soccer. “The ball is just past it. It was a fluke goal. One of those goals that happens.”
The ball, headed by Brandon’s Katelyn Watson off a corner kick from Laura Quintero, sailed past Stratton and into the net in the 54th minute to give the Lady Bulldogs their 1-0 upset victory over the Lady Wave in the MHSAA Class 6A championship match at Clinton High School’s Arrow Field.
“Our defense played wonderful that game,” Stratton said. “We just had that one letdown.”
Not many balls – only seven – got past Tupelo’s talented keeper and her stingy defense in her first complete season in the goal. In previous seasons, the Alabama commitment had shared playing time.
All seven of the goals came on corner kicks or penalty kicks.
“This was her first year to be our only keeper and she stepped up to the challenge,” Tupelo coach Shelley Miller said. “She took ownership of this team. She thought it was her job to make or break us in every game.
“It’s a ton of pressure and she handled it above her years.”
Stratton doesn’t mind playing in the spotlight, where goals that missed are cheered and goals that find the net leave the keeper on an island.
“That’s what I like about being a keeper,” she said. “You can be the hero or cost your team the game.
“I always think I can save every ball. I’m my own worst critic.”
Stratton, who was selected to participate in this spring’s Olympic Development Program camp, will play select this year with the Jackson-based Mississippi Fire.
“I never stop playing,” she said, then laughed. “I play constantly. Some people get burned out, but not me. I love soccer. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
Her goal is to always improve. “You can always get better,” she said.