Two names already in the history books can’t believe how far the Douglas girls soccer program has come in their short time. Goalkeeper Alexa Williams has been amazed by the program’s growth and forward Andi Hunsicker couldn’t even believe all the steps the Bearcats have taken in just two short years.
The Douglas girls have gone from pretender to contender almost overnight. Before Hunsicker’s freshman year the team may have won two total games. Last year, when Hunsicker etched her name in the record books as the program’s all-time leading scorer, the Bearcats won the Class 3A Northeast Quadrant (now defunct) to make their first state tournament appearance.
“Last year when we went to state we were so excited and we thought that we can do this next year and it’s going to be better next year,” Hunsicker said. “We want to show people that we’re not the team that you can just step over anymore.”
Douglas once again proved that by finishing second in the East Conference this season. That finish pits the Bearcats against Worland in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. Those two have yet to play against each other and some could consider Douglas the favorite in that game. That’s a testament to how far the program has come.
First-year head coach Skylar Hatanelas stated she’s been blessed to enter the program with the players she has. She served as junior varsity coach for the Douglas boys last year and didn’t get to watch a lot of the girls’ season. When she met her new team for the first time she discovered a passion and drive among the team that had been nonexistent for years.
“They had ambition from making that state tournament and they may have fell short of their hope with their finish last year,” Hatanelas said, “so we’re kind of rolling with that and figuring out what we’re great at and building off that.”
Injuries and the nature of spring sports in Wyoming helped contribute to Douglas’ slow start this season. After that initial transition, the Bearcats steadied the ship going into a non-conference match against Cody that finished in a scoreless draw. That was a transcendent match for the Bearcats, who have allowed just one goal in three matches since. Part of that is due to senior goalkeeper Williams.
Williams made 21 saves (one off a school record) in the shutout of the two-time defending state champions. One of those was a one-handed palming save in overtime that salvaged the point and draw for the Bearcats.
She admitted that although matches like that are nerve-wracking, she prefers those to the ones where she doesn’t face many shots at all. Her constant stream of saves may have come as surprise but it’s nothing she’s not used to.
“I think I surprise myself every time we play just because you have to give it your all and when I give it my all on that field for my team something miraculous happens every time,” she said. “I definitely feel like that happened (against Cody).”
Hunsicker is the other spotlight player as she stands among the top three individual goal-scorers in the state. She’s already broken last year’s program record with 18 goals going into the final weekend of the regular season. She’s been quick to note the defense and midfield that helps create the space she’s found necessary to score those goals.
One of the ideas Hatanelas has tried to instill in the team is trust. Hunsicker stated she has learned to trust her teammates to make stops, be where they need to be and to give their all in every game.
Together, the Bearcats have helped capture the excitement of a community that hasn’t had much reason to cheer for a soccer team in the program’s history.
“We work really hard in practice all week and we really want to prove ourselves and prove ourselves to everybody,” Hunsicker said. “So we just go out with the mentality of winning the game and I think it really paid off.”
With all eyes now fixated on Thursday in Jackson, the Bearcats are one match away from moving further than they ever have. And that’s been one of the most fulfilling parts of this season for the first-year coach.
“We’re just getting started,” Hatanelas said. “These girls never cease to amaze me with their talent or their passion or their heart that they bring. We’re still working and these are all building blocks so what a great way to roll into (state).”