Haley Brightwell is accustomed to leading.
As the veteran of the St. James’ soccer team this past year, the fifth-year player was the heart and soul of a Trojan team that reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual state champion Montgomery Academy.
Not surprisingly, she is a midfielder that is the front line of defense, the person who initiates the offense and the leader who orchestrates the quick transition from offense to defense, or vice versa. It’s also not surprising she was chosen as the team captain this past season.
“That’s a big deal for me,” she said, noting she was the captain in 2019 as well. “I just took on that (leadership) position at a younger age and tried to help lead the team the best I could even though I wasn’t the oldest on the team. I just tried to motivate and lead by example as much as with words.”
Now, she finds herself in uncharted waters. The Class 4A standout is one of 18 players chosen to represent the South in next week’s Alabama All Star Sports Week soccer match at Emory Folmar Soccer Complex, a game that will feature 26 players from established 6A and 7A programs on the North and South rosters, including 10 on the South squad.
“It’s definitely going to be a whole lot different because I feel like a lot of these girls are going to be the leader of their own team, so you can’t have everybody be the leader,” Brightwell noted. “On the soccer field, it’s important to communicate, so I’m going to try to communicate as much as I can and make sure we’re connected on the field and lead by my actions. One of my main goals all the time is to lead not by telling people what to do but by showing them. Just having a good attitude and working hard, that’ll inspire and encourage others to do the same.”
Brightwell has been building to this point, playing as a seventh and eighth grader on a team that needed a little more offense, then taking charge of a squad that showed potential in 2020 before the season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic and was a contender in 2021 that may well have been the second-best team in the state behind the team that defeated it in the quarterfinals.
“It’s definitely hard, especially with it being an in-town rival, but it just pushes us more to come back even harder next year,” she said. “My 10th grade year, with COVID, I don’t know how that year would have turned out because we were looking pretty strong that year and then everything got shut down. It definitely threw a curveball into everything. But I think our team came out super strong this year and I’m really proud of how we did.
“We’ve definitely been building up, adding players, because my grade has a bunch of people and two years below me, my sister’s grade, has six players so we’ve been young the past few years and we’re finally getting that experience. We only lost one senior this year so we’re basically coming back as the same team so it’s exciting for me because we did so well last year and we’re just going to add to that.”
Brightwell doesn’t have the statistics that a forward or a goal keeper might have. Her importance can’t be measured in statistics.
“She’s a vocal leader that doesn’t mind encouraging people, doesn’t mind putting in the work day in, day out, so she not only leads vocally but leads by example each and every day,” said her father, St. James coach Charlie Brightwell. “She’s grown up around the game her whole life so she sees the field a little differently than some kids. That’s been a big blessing for our team because she understands everything a little more in-depth just because she’s literally grown up with it.
“She’s a key cog in the middle. She wins a lot of 50-50 balls and once she wins them, she’s good enough to get out and get us going in the right direction.”
Of course, being the leader can often lead to some unique conversations with her younger sister Katie, who leads the team in scoring.
“It can be interesting,” Haley admitted. “There’s a different dynamic on the soccer field. When we’re talking and stuff, it’s a whole lot different than when we’re playing on the soccer field. But I also think with us being sisters, I know her like the back of my hand, what she’s going to do, so it’s almost instinctive almost. I know where she’s going to go because I’ve watched her play for so long.”
Brightwell is one of a record number of players chosen from the River Region, joining Trinity teammates Mary Alice Sasser and Katherine Warren, Montgomery Academy’s Virginia Meacham, Pike Road’s Tori Meldrum and Kate Green of Prattville. Of the eight players from 1A-5A schools, five hail from the River Region.
“A lot of the ones that are on the team from Montgomery, I’ve grown up playing with, like Virginia and Katherine Warren,” Brightwell said. “It’s fun to get to see them and play with them again, but it also shows how we grew up and played together. We all developed well young and it definitely shows now when you get to events like this.”
“A lot of the girls she’ll play with in the all-star game she’s grown up playing club soccer with her whole life,” Charlie Brightwell observed. “It’s a really good talented group and most of them are getting a reward, the recognition they all deserve.”
The all-star game will provide another opportunity for the local players as well, the chance to catch the eye of a college recruiter. Brightwell spent part of her summer checking out potential college destinations, but she admits the possibility of a scholarship in her favorite sport could change her plans.
“It’s definitely incentive,” she said. “Also, just playing with these girls that I usually play against, I don’t want to just show up and not do well. I want to show out and be the best I can be. I want to show I deserve to be put on the team. I think that’s going to be the biggest motivator for me.”
ALABAMA ALL-STAR SPORTS WEEK
Boys golf, 10 a.m., Arrowhead Country Club
Girls golf, 10 a.m., Arrowhead Country Club
Baseball, 4 p.m., Riverwalk Stadium
Boys tennis, 5 p.m., Lagoon Park Tennis Center
Girls tennis, 5 p.m., Lagoon Park Tennis Center
Girls basketball, 5 p.m., Multiplex at Cramton Bowl
Boys basketball, 6:45 p.m., Multiplex at Cramton Bowl
Softball, 4 p.m., Lagoon Park Softball Complex
Girls soccer, 5 p.m., Emory Folmar Soccer Complex
Girls cross country, 5:30 p.m., Gateway Park
Boys cross country, 6 p.m., Gateway Park
Boys soccer, 7 p.m., Emory Folmar Soccer Complex
Volleyball, 4 p.m., Multiplex at Cramton Bowl