Petal native Holifield helps Lady Crusaders win title

By CAMAL PETRO,

Less than 24 hours after winning the NAIA National Championship, the William Carey girl’s soccer team was back on campus and in class. Luckily for senior Petal native Jamie Holifield, she set her schedule to not have a Monday class this semester.

So, instead of sitting through a lecture, Holifield was catching up on homework she missed while spending the better part of last week in Orange Beach, Alabama, winning the program’s first-ever National Championship. The senior forward is catching up on congratulatory social media posts, too.

“I don’t even know how to describe it. It feels surreal, honestly,” Holifield said. “I’ve never really won anything that big in my life, so it was quite an accomplishment. We’re in the technology age, so it definitely really showed (Sunday). My Facebook, social media and everything is still blowing up. It’s really nice to have the support from everyone.”

The Lady Crusaders defeated Keiser University 1-0 Sunday to claim the championship, and the team was back in Hattiesburg Sunday night to celebrate with the William Carey community. Rightfully so, the three-hour bus ride back to Hattiesburg was far from a typical ride back from an away game.

“Typically our bus rides are kind of quiet,” Holifield said. “Everyone’s resting. It was almost transformed into a party bus. There was music, celebrating and just reliving the game. It was really fun to have one last bus ride together.”

The wild postseason began after the Lady Crusaders posted a 15-2 overall record in the regular season, but even that ended with a 3-2 Senior Day loss in overtime. Then, almost two weeks later, they lost in the Southern States Athletic Conference Championship game.

Losing the last two of three games it played didn’t affect William Carey, though, because it put together five wins in a row in the NAIA National Tournament. After taking down Missouri Baptist University in the Opening Round at home, then it defeated four straight Top 20 teams, including three in the Top 10, to win the National Championship.

William Carey soccer has always been a successful program, but neither the boys nor the girl’s team has ever won a national championship until the Lady Crusaders Sunday. For Holifield, she’s been a part of four teams that have played the National Tournament, but she knew 2018 was going to be different.

“Each year we’ve had a great team, but maybe one year the team had the offense to do it and next year the team had the defense to win a championship,” Holifield said. “I think this is the first time we’ve had a team that has had both. We had a full team that could do this, and we knew it from Day 1. We’ve said this all year.”

The Lady Crusaders were knocked out in the third round in 2015 during Holifield’s freshman season, then a second-round exit happened the next season. But, when the Lady Crusaders lost in the semifinals in 2017, the players knew they had something special brewing for 2018.

“From the moment we were put out from the national championships last year, we knew we were already working towards the next year,” Holifield said. “This has not been a one-year process. This has almost been a four-year process, especially for the upperclassmen. This has been four years in the making and this was the year to do it. From the moment we started preseason, we knew that it was going to happen.”

The Petal native finished her senior season with 13 goals and seven assists, as three of those goals and two assists came during the five National Tournament games. The 13-goal season capped off a career that had 57 goals and 20 assists in her four years at William Carey.

Holifield’s career ended with her helping bring a National Championship to Hattiesburg, and being from Petal, that made it even better. There aren’t too many local players on the team, but she has played alongside another former Petal standout, junior Caitlyn White, the last three years.

Not only did she rack up the goals over the last four years, Holifield and her teammates were learning how to become a national champion.

“We learned it all,” she said. “We learned how to lose and we learned how to win. The only thing left was to win all of it. We had done it all, but now we can officially say that.”

William Carey’s National Championship was the school’s first title since the 1969 baseball team.