Sitting in the bleachers watching Athens girls soccer team, one player immediately stands out, both athletically and in stature. Standing at 6-feet, Klaire Phillips roams the midfield from box to box for the Lady Eagles.
Phillips is the News Courier’s Girls Player of the Year following her best season — a senior season that included an area championship, a fourth consecutive state tournament trip and, finally, a 5A state soccer championship.
As a four-year starter for Athens, opponents across the state have grown accustomed to seeing Philips roam the midfield at the state tournament every year.
“She has played either center mid or center back for us for the past four years,” said Athens head coach J.B. Hutchison. “We had such a strong midfield. Miranda (Hudleston), Ashley (Ward), Juli (Owens) and Klaire were able to play in the middle.”
Phillips served as one of the team’s anchors in Athens 4-2-3-1 system that featured two holding midfielders. Serving as captain and a center midfielder, Phillips rarely missed a game in a schedule filled with tough 6A competition.
“I think that’s her best position,” said Hutchison about center midfield. “She was a strong tackler with good vision. We used her as our pivot in midfield. She should be able to compete for a starting spot at center back (at UAH).”
Phillips and fellow senior Grace Morgan accepted scholarship offers to play soccer for the Chargers in the fall. While Morgan scored the goals for Athens this season, Phillips did the dirty work in the center of the field, winning tackles and distributing the ball to teammates.
“Klaire was very quiet and led by example, but when she did speak, the girls really fell behind her,” said Hutchison. “She called a team meeting right before the playoffs on her own.”
After coming up short in three previous trips to the state tournament, Phillips helped Athens win its first soccer championship in her fourth trip to John Hunt Park in Huntsville. Hutchison said his senior captain was instrumental in that victory.
“She was in a huge battle in the Final Four game against the best player from Briarwood,” said Hutchison. “She won that battle and a lot of our attack was cultivated to run through her in that game.”
Phillips finished her senior season with eight goals, eight assists and recorded a team-high 247 steals. With such a great height advantage, it’s no surprise that most of her goals came from set piece opportunities.
“She was what we keyed on in set pieces,” said Hutchison. “She led the team in goals from headers. I think all of her goals might have been from headers.”
As Phillips enrolls at the University of Alabama-Huntsville this fall, she will most likely switch positions for the Chargers. The tall senior is projected to play at center back at the next level.
With a chance for immediate playing time at the collegiate level and just a short drive down U.S. 72, this is not the last the Athens community will hear from Klaire Phillips.
Player of the Year
Klaire Phillips, Athens
Miranda Huddleston, Athens
Grace Morgan, Athens
Riley Ridgeway, Athens
Mary Claire Breakfield, Athens
Tiffani Dunaway, Athens
Bristol Countess, East Limestone
Jordan Runion, East Limestone
Gracie Bryant, Athens Bible
Anna Harper Gowan, West Limestone
Allison Martin, West Limestone