BUFORD — A few moments after Buford had played Milton to a first-half stalemate in the second round of the GHSA state playoffs, senior Kaitlyn White locked eyes with volunteer assistant coach Chelsea Watts in the locker room.

They had a brief heart-to-heart pep talk. 

“She told me ‘This is why you’re here. This is your chance,’” White said. 

Don’t call Watts a psychic by any stretch, but she had a feeling and knew the game would be won on a “gutsy goal,” she said. Watts primarily works with Buford’s offensive attackers in her fourth season on the staff. Watts has playing experience at Jacksonville State and in semi-professional soccer, and said she was “that kind of player” in regard to her goal-scoring prowess. 

White carries potential as a goal scorer, after all, and Watts had an inkling. 

Five minutes and 14 seconds into the second half, senior Kaitlyn White found gold. She received an airborne pass in the attacking third and snuck it past the opposing goalkeeper and into the net’s bottom left corner.

“Did I just score?” White thought to herself after scoring the would-be decisive goal in a 1-0 win over Milton. “I was locked in to score a goal.”

Even once many minutes had passed after Buford’s win, White still felt shock. She couldn’t keep her breath at times due to a great deal of excitement. After her goal, Buford felt confident it wouldn’t concede one of its own. It played to be the case.

White, one of eight seniors on the Buford girls’ soccer team, scored a valiant goal that became a full-circle moment. She didn’t play for the team last season after taking time to focus on herself and recruitment, eventually landing a Division I commitment to George Washington. She gave full commitment in her return and has scored twice through two playoff games for the Wolves. 

“She decided this is where she needs to be,” fifth-year head coach Megan Hill said. “We needed her. She has come up big.”

White played for Gwinnett Soccer Academy’s Elite Club National League team as a junior. When it came time to decide whether she would return to Buford’s program as a senior, she remained unsure. Hill prides her coaching philosophy on team connection and bonding, and White felt as if she would lack that after being away from the team for a full season. 

White instantly received encouragement across the board. Her teammates implored her that 2024 would be a special campaign, and her presence would be important if Buford wanted to compete for its first state title in program history. Nearly in an instant, those fears were squashed. She built strong relationships with fellow senior Abby Kilman and others. She felt more a part of the team than she ever had before. 

“This is the best feeling I’ve had,” White said. “Hopefully, we can do great things.”

White is Buford’s consummate workhorse. She frequently fights for 50-50 balls that Kilman said others wouldn’t. She provides pressure to players in practice. She’s got a sense of maturity that wows the coaches.

Her goal didn’t shock many, other than White herself, because Watts called her a “gamer” and “a perfect candidate” for scoring in crucial moments. 

“I feel fortunate to be able to coach KW,” Watts said. “She has uncoachable attributes that differentiate her like grit and work ethic.”

Don’t let White fool you, she lives for these moments. The senior loves to score. After returning from her season of club soccer, she said (albeit a bit facetiously) that a personal expectation was to score five goals per game. She hasn’t gotten that opportunity as of late, but enjoyed contributing to the offense by assisting over recent games. 

On Tuesday, she cashed in her chance. 

As Buford’s goal-scoring possession came through the midfield, the other 10 players in green uniforms along with those on the bench had no doubt.

White had her moment. 

“I can see everything on the field by being on the back line,” freshman Mara Sheppard said. “I can tell when it’s building up. When it goes to Kaitlyn, I can trust her. We have done this before and pressure doesn’t affect us. We know that if we need to score, then we’re going to score it. Right as she got it, I said to myself, ‘Oh, that’s a goal.’ I can tell.

“And it was.”

FEATURED PHOTO: Courtesy of Lily McGregor Photography with permission of Kaitlyn White

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