By David Rogers. May 10, 2017. BOONE, NC – They say good things come in threes. When it comes to Watauga women’s soccer and Emma Kate Sevensky, that phrase waxes poetic.
COVER IMAGE: Watauga freshman wing Bailey Whitehead-Price (14) evaluates the situation in attack vs. Independence defender Geralyn Love (3). All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
Video of Savensky’s Winning Goal, Courtesy of Krista Schneider
SLIDESHOW AT BOTTOM
Good Things DO Come In Threes
With 3:33 remaining in “sudden victory,” TRIPLE overtime and from almost 40 yards out in the right center portion of the field, Sevensky – who just happens to wear the #3 jersey for the Pioneers– looped the ball over Charlotte-Independence goalkeeper Riley McClain’s outstretched arms, just millimeters under the horizontal bar, to give the host Pioneers a thrilling, 2-1 win over the Patriots in the first round of the 2017 North Carolina High School 4A State Championship tournament.
After several weeks of mostly rain in the High Country, Wednesday evening emerged as near-perfect weather conditions for a championship-level soccer match at Jack Groce Stadium. A stiff breeze from the west during both halves of regulation gave each side an advantage when they had the wind at their backs.
Independence took advantage of that wind in the first half to keep pressure on the Pioneer goal protected by sophomore GK Cailey Haas. Midway into the period, the Patriots drew first blood when a corner kick by junior Hope Hunter settled gently into the space in front of goal, only to become a pinball as the opposing sides battled for control with different ulterior motives. Independence wanted to score, while the Pioneers hoped to prevent that from happening.
Watauga’s defenders failed to clear as the ball bounced wildly in front of the goal before Independence freshman Devin Simcox cleaned things up and pushed the ball past Haas and into the net, giving the visitors a tenuous, 1-0 lead.
Throughout the game, Watauga’ decisive, one- and two-touch passing skills and disruptive defensive pressure gave them the upper hand in time of possession, but upon reaching around the attacking 20-yard line, the High Country eleven’s offensive organization seemed to come apart. Finally, on a corner kick put into play by Lilly Suyao from about 18 yards out opposite the right goalpost, Savensky pounded the ball through the Patriot defenders and past McClain to ring up a decisive, tying goal for the Pioneers.
I was nervous. I was really, really super nervous.
That’s the way things stood through the remainder of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods before Sevensky produced the winning goal in sudden victory overtime.
Watauga head coach Catherine “Cat” Wallace admitted to Blowing Rock News that even after controlling possession for much of the game, her squad seems to have trouble once they reach within 20-25 yards of goal.
“But give us time,” she nodded. “We are still a very young side. That is something we have worked on and continue to work on. We know that possession doesn’t win games. Goals win games. Completing passes in the last third (of the field), finding that forward’s feet instead of playing the ball into space for the defenders – and we will get better at that. But you have to give Independence a lot of credit, too. They have a great defense. The have a strong back line, so learning how to play around them is something that we will continue to pursue.”
“I am real proud of our girls for battling back,” Wallace added. “We were a bit rattled at the beginning, but then settled down and played good soccer.”
Wallace said that she knew very little about Independence coming into the game other than that they were a skilled soccer team based on their record and their competitiveness in a very strong league in the Charlotte area’s Southwestern 4A Conference, which includes perennial state powerhouses Myers Park, Porter Ridge and Butler.
“So as with any game we go into, especially those where we know nothing about the opponent,” Wallace explained, “We went into it ready to play OUR game and not worry about the other team so much.
We were a bit rattled at the beginning, but then settled down and played good soccer.
“The wind was a little bit of a factor,” the Pioneer head coach observed. “Of course we know that this field is part of a wind tunnel through this part of the area, because this is also where we practice. It was a factor in different halves for each team, but overall I didn’t think it was that big of a deal tonight.
Watauga athletic director Dustin Kerley was all smiles afterwards and acknowledged to Blowing Rock News, “It was a great win and definitely something to be proud of. The players and the coaches have all worked really hard and this first round win is testament to their hard work and commitment to playing the game at a high level.”
Pioneer freshman winger Emma Schneider reinforced her head coach’s observation of the girls being a little bit “rattled” at the start.
“Coming into the game,” admitted Schneider, “I was really nervous. I was really, really super nervous. Coming out onto the field in the beginning, I didn’t feel like I did very well, at all. And I don’t think I was alone in feeling that. But after awhile that nervousness wore off and we starting making better passes. We started playing more as a team.”
When Blowing Rock News asked Schneider, freshman Bailey Whitehead-Price and sophomore Mary Louise Sprague what they knew about Independence coming into the game, Whitehead-Price was quick to offer, “We knew absolutely nothing about them. We knew their record, but nothing else. By the end, we knew they were pretty darn good.”
Independence finished their regular season at 12-10-2 overall and 6-6 in conference, good enough for 4th place in in the Southwestern 4A league and good enough to earn them the 26th seed in the 32-team West bracket of the state tournament. Watauga is the #6 seed with a 12-2-3 overall record while going 9-2-3 in 3A/4A Northwestern Conference play. That conference mark was good enough for third in the tight top half of the Northwestern Conference, but as the top 4A finisher, gave them a higher seed in the West bracket. At 7-6-1 and 5th place in conference, South Caldwell earned a 25th seed in the West bracket as the 2nd place 4A school, behind Watauga.
Watauga now advances to host Grimsley in the tournament’s second round. The Greensboro-based and 11th seeded Whirlies were a 5-0 winner Thursday night against North Mecklenburg.
The other Northwestern Conference 4A team seeing playoff action Thursday included South Caldwell, which lost 9-1 to Pinecrest. Northwestern teams competing in the 3A tournament include St. Stephens, which lost 9-0 to Weddington; Fred T. Foard, lost 5-0 to Cuthbertson; and Hibriten, a 3-2 winner over Northwest Cabarrus. The #22-seeded Panthers of Hibriten will advance to face Kings Mountain in the second round.
In 2A play, Ashe County was eliminated 2-1 by East Lincoln. In 1A competition, #32 seeded Avery County fell to Community School of Davidson, 9-0.
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News