Lenoir City High School senior Maddie Williams realized a lifelong dream Friday when she signed her letter of intent to play soccer at Milligan College in front of family, friends and coaches in the LCHS Hall of Fame room.
“I’d say it’s like a very special day,” she said. “You know, I’ve been kind of waiting for this ever since I started playing soccer. I’ve known that I’ve wanted to play college soccer and to be actually to go and play at a school that I love, it’s really exciting to me.”
Williams has dribbled a soccer ball most of her life but said her passion for the game came gradually.
“I started playing in the fourth grade, I started at FC (Alliance) and I was not very good, not good at all,” Williams said. “One of my keeper coaches would make me cry every time I went and I would tell my mom, ‘Mom, please don’t make me go.’ A couple of years later, I started getting the gist of it and now I love it, I love all of my keeper coaches.”
Williams recorded more than 350 saves in high school and played a large role in the Lady Panthers’ success.
She was named to the All-District 4-3A first team and was runner-up for District 4-3A Defensive Player of the Year as a goalkeeper.
“From a technical standpoint, I mean, obviously, she’s a very good goalkeeper, technically sound, can use her feet,” Elik Pickell, LCHS head girls soccer coach, said. “She’s changed kind of the way we could play defense in that we had confidence that we could play the ball back to her if one of center backs got in trouble, they could play it back to Maddie, we knew she could deal with or clear it or whatever. She’s very vocal, been a great leader, always brings great energy and excitement to practices. All of our drills she was in, she was a very good communicator, and that’s what a lot of girls needed ... not kind of knowing what to say, Maddie knew.”
Williams believes she has always felt a pull to play goalkeeper.
“No, I’ve always played goalie, like from little league, AYSO, indoor, I always wanted to play goalie and I would fight the other kids to play goalie,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, I guess it’s just because I don’t have to run, but I love it. You can be like the game-changer, you can either let the goal go in or you can save the goal and win the game. Like they said, goalies usually have to be crazy. You’ve got to be loud, got to be aggressive, you can’t be scared of anybody, you’ve got to able to take charge.”
Williams proved a game-changer for the Lady Panthers in the fall and helped guide the team to its first winning record since 2011.
One of her most memorable performances came Oct. 12 when she recorded two saves against Heritage High School in a penalty kick shootout to win the match 3-2 and send the Lady Panthers to the District 4-3A tournament semifinals.
“The first one this year was, obviously, when she scored a PK against Loudon, that was kind of cool,” Pickell said. “Most teams don’t do that, but she’s one of our best PK takers. Another one was at Heritage in the district tournament game where it was getting right down to the end, it was 2-2, we were just kind of battling there, everybody was tired. They had a girl take a very good shot, and Maddie out of nowhere stuck a paw up and played it over the crossbar and kind of saved it at that moment.”
Williams was also a key player for the Panthers football team as starting kicker. She was a perfect 16-16 on extra point attempts this year and was voted to both All-County football and soccer teams two years in a row.
“The goalie before me, she was the kicker before me, and I was like, ‘I’m a goalie, I should kick on the football team, too’,” she said. “I went and talked to (Jeff) Cortez and he was like, ‘Sure, get some footballs and go kick.’ That’s kind of how it started and I loved it. It took me a little bit. The first year, it was really hard because kicking a football and kicking a soccer ball are two different ways to kick it, and so it was hard for me to switch back-and-forth. By the second year of doing football, I knew kind of the mental switch in my head, ‘This is how I kick for football, this is how I kick for soccer’.”
Williams knew a college decision was looming and patiently waited for the right door to open up.
“I was considering Trevecca (Nazarene University), I got invited to one of their ID camps at Milligan so I was like, ‘I’ll go’,” Williams said. “I went and immediately fell in love with the school, the coaches. I just really loved how they talk to their players, their team, how they treat their players and I just really felt at home there. It’s a small campus, there’s rules, which I like that. It just felt really homey to me and I thought, ‘This is where I’ll fit in.’”
She is expected to compete for the starting goalkeeper position this summer as a freshman.
“She’s actually going to compete, probably her and their No. 1 keeper right now, they’re going to be competing for the job,” Pickell said. “Talking with their coaches, I mean she impressed when she went to the camp. As long as she’s healthy, she’ll be competing for the starting spot. Everything she does now is college level, so there’s not going to be a huge transition from one to the other. I think she can make a big impact, I think she can be a four-year starter.”
“I think it’s going to be a huge change for me personally, I think it’ll take some adjusting to, but I think I can be a pretty good asset to their team,” Williams added. “I think I can be a strong player for them, and that’s what I’m doing right now ... I’m going to keeper training, doing all this stuff to prepare to go play for them so that I can be the best that I can be.”