By David Rogers. May 9, 2018. ASHEVILLE, NC — Combining pesky defense with terrific execution on early scoring opportunities, #17-seeded Watauga upset 16th-seeded Asheville on Wednesday at the Cougars’ Memorial Stadium.
Center forward Lily Suyao figured prominently in both Pioneer goals. With barely six minutes ticked off the clock in the first half, junior Sadye Franklin dribbled up the right sideline, past midfield and into open space near what in football would be the 30-yard line, then launched a perfect crossing pass over defenders to a streaking Suyao in the center of the field. The tall sophomore leaned into the header, punching it convincingly past the Cougar goalkeeper and into the right side of the net.
“We had already squandered a couple of opportunities inside the box,” Suyao explained to Blowing Rock News after the game. “I knew that when Sadye put her head down that ball was coming and it would be possible for me to score.”
Drawing the proverbial “first blood” ignited an appreciative roar from the Watauga grandstands, filled with parents, grandparents and family friends who had come to watch their princesses play ball.
We caught them offguard, counter-attacking.
On this day, there was nothing dainty about the playing of soccer. The head referee seemed reluctant to call penalties against either side for what some observers thought was excessively rough play, but there was an equal amount of periodic outrage and exasperation as Cougars and Pioneers alike splayed head first into the turf and looked up with arms raised in wonderment that no foul had been called. “Incidental contact,” the official was heard to say a few times.
“He is letting the girls play,” said one sideline observer, “and the game is better for it, without all of the stoppages.”
- WATAUGA — Lily Suyao (goal) header from five yards, on crossing pass from Sadye Franklin (assist)
- WATAUGA — Emma Schneider (goal), shot from 10 yards on back pass from Lily Suyao (assist)
With some seven minutes remaining in the first half, Suyao drew a crowd of defenders, then pushed the ball into space for fellow sophomore Emma Schneider some 15 yards out in front of the Cougar goal. Schneider nudged the ball slightly to her right, then drilled her waist-high shot into the left side of the Asheville net.
Watauga didn’t create a lot of scoring opportunities against the bigger, and well-skilled Asheville squad, arguably the best championship-calibre team the Pioneers have faced this season.
“This was one of those games where we might not get a lot of chances,” Watauga head coach Gody Zayobi noted to reporters later, “but when we do get them (the question becomes) can we put them away — and put them away early.
“I think Asheville actually had the ball more than us in the first half,” Zayobi added, “but defensively we didn’t let them create much in our defensive third of the field…then we caught them off guard in counter-attacking.”
Our team is very disruptive in defending.
Pioneer goalkeeper Cailey Haas was rarely challenged in Northwestern Conference play, her attacking teammates dominating possession in a string of higher scoring games offensively, and often shutouts defensively. On Wednesday, Asheville up the ante a bit, even if never seriously threatened.
“Staying focused,” Haas told Blowing Rock News about the priority and challenge as goalkeeper, even though your teammates are rarely letting the ball get into the defensive half of the field. “Even in those games, you never know when a team is going to make a break and threaten to score. But a game like this, it was fun. Asheville is very good, but our defenders didn’t give them very many chances. Our team is very disruptive in defending.”
“I am very proud of my team,” said Pioneer sophomore halfback Ella Brown, who was part of that disruptive, even physical Watauga defense. “We knew that Asheville was going to be good.”
I knew when Sadye put her head down that the ball was coming.
Brown was also the recipient of the first yellow card of the night as the physicality of play seemed to escalate late in the match and the referee seemed to want to bring things back under control.
“I touched the ball,” recalled Brown to Blowing Rock News in a post-match interview, “but I tripped her. It wasn’t intentional, it was just one of those things.”
Also one of six sophomores on a young Watauga roster with only three seniors, wing forward Bailey Whitehead Price also appreciated the step-up in competiti0n with the Pioneers facing Asheville.
“Early in our schedule we played T C Roberson and they are very good, and in conference Hickory and South Caldwell are pretty far up there, but this state tournament game against Asheville is one of our true best tests this season,” Whitehead Price observed. “This was a good opportunity to measure ourselves, to see where we are. It’s cool to compete against these higher level teams and show that we can rise to the challenge.
Ironically, Whitehead Price, Suyao and the rest of the Watauga know that more Cougars lie in wait. The #1 seeded Charlotte Catholic Cougars are the Pioneers’ next opponent, in Charlotte on Saturday, May 12.
Suyao, who plays on a Charlotte based travel team, will see some familiar faces on the other side of the ball since some of her travel team members play scholastic ball for Charlotte Catholic.
“This will be a great experience,” said Brown, “and a good step up in competition. This was a very good game to help prepare us for what we will see on Saturday in Charlotte.