By David Rogers. May 12, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC — Running up against — and defeating — a bigger, stronger, and more athletic team in the Asheville High Cougars on Wednesday did little to prepare Watauga High School women’s soccer team for Saturday’s tilt against another squad of big cats. After a tight first half, the Pioneers fell to the bigger, stronger, more athletic, faster and more powerful Cougars of Charlotte Catholic, 6-1.
Thanks to a high arching, long-range shot from the right sideline by junior Sadye Franklin that looped over the outstretched arms of the Cougar goalkeeper midway through the first half, Watauga took only a 2-1 deficit into intermission. Unfortunately, the most physical game of the Pioneers’ season began to take its toll on the young squad after halftime, as the Cougars took advantage of what Watauga head coach Gody Zayobi later described as his charges’ small mistakes to put the second round game of the 3A state tournament out of reach.
The #1-seeded Charlotte Catholic eleven advance to a third-round matchup with #9 Weddington on Wednesday. Weddington was also a 6-1 winner on Saturday, over #8 A C Reynolds.
Other games on Wednesday featuring advancing teams in the West bracket include #5 Southwest Guilford vs. #6 T.C. Roberson; #3 South Iredell vs. #6 Kings Mountain; and #2 Cox Mill vs. #10 Northern Guilford. With Hickory losing to Northern Guilford and Watauga being ousted by Charlotte Catholic, the 3A/4A Northwestern Conference has no more representation in the 3A state tournament, but #7-seeded South Caldwell advanced in the 4A tournament and will face #2 Northwest Guilford on Wednesday.
On one level, Charlotte Catholic’s first goal against the Pioneers was a thing of beauty, a crossing pass to the middle in front of a streaking center forward who powered it home. On a different level, however, it was unfortunate for the Pioneers that the action moved faster than the sideline judge — who failed to observe that the Cougar forward in the middle was some four yards in an offside position when the pass was made.
While the Cougars’ second goal resulted from a well-executed free kick from about 40 yards out and good follow-up by the attacking side, the award of the free kick was questionable, at best. Within seconds after two Charlotte Catholic pummeled a Watauga halfback, including a glaring cross-body block that leveled the unsuspecting Pioneer, relatively mild, even incidental contact by another Watauga player drew the referee’s penalty award of a free kick to the Cougars. The inconsistent officiating of the physical play brought howls of protest from members of the Watauga coaching staff — and a yellow card from the referee for the presumed disrespect from across the field.
Franklin’s goal later in the half gave Watauga momentum going into halftime but in this reporter’s view the inconsistent, even one-sided calls related to the physical play continued into the second half. Case in point: with a Watauga halfback dribbling down the right sideline, a Cougar sprinted across from midfield and slide-tackled the attacking Pioneer player without first touching the ball. For some reason that was not obvious from any distance, the Watauga player was penalized and a free kick awarded to Charlotte Catholic.
Officiating critiques aside, Charlotte Catholic did to Watauga what the Pioneers have done for most of the season against Northwestern Conference and even most non-league opponents. The Cougars dominated possession, forced the Pioneers into making ill-conceived passes, and seized opportunities with conviction.
Losing only three seniors from the 2018 roster (Chloe Walzcak, Briana Davidson, and Emma Kate Sevensky), Watauga should return even stronger in 2019, bolstered by another year of playing together, improving skills, individual players maturing physically, and welcoming newcomers either from the junior varsity or student-athletes new to the school.