By David Rogers. March 17, 2017. CLEMMONS, NC — Every language has its own collection of “wise” sayings. Wednesday night in Clemmons, Watauga women’s soccer players learned the other, more dramatic meaning of the phrase, “When it rains, it pours.”
COVER IMAGE: Watauga forward Brynne Gould sprint with the ball wide early in the first half against West Forsyth
SLIDESHOW AT BOTTOM
Of course we are not talking about the kind of precipitation deluge from the weather that Watauga survived last Friday in advancing past Grimsley. This drama unfolded as more of a Shakespearean tragedy than romance novel, as the Lady Pioneers were simply swamped in Round 3 of the North Carolina 4A Women’s Soccer Championship Tournament, falling to host West Forsyth, 6-0. With the loss to an older, more experienced Titans team, what has been a fairy tale 2017 season comes to an abrupt end for the young Watauga players.
But they are hardly damsels in distress, this Pioneer squad. For almost 14 minutes, Watauga made it look like Cinderella had arrived once more, this time on the outskirts of Winston-Salem. Thrust and parry, up and down the field and back again both sides held the other at bay.
And then the Titans took control.
And then the Titans took control.
There was the ever slightest of west to east slope to the well-groomed soccer pitch and in the first half the Titans were going downhill. Just inside the 14th minute, things started going downhill for Watauga, figuratively speaking, and in a hurry. In the space of a little more than five minutes, West Forsyth scored three times. First came an unassisted goal by midfielder Erin Blevins at 13:56. Then at 18:37, forward Brooklyn Berry punched one home on an assist from outside back, Amber Skinner. That was followed less than a minute later by forward Riley Dorman, an assist credited to outside back Savannah Goodin.
For the remainder of the first half, Watauga bent, but did not break. The Pioneers dug in their heels, determined to stop by scoring onslaught. And they did, at least until after intermission.
All in all, five different Titan players accounted for the six goals by the winning side. Watauga seemed to regroup at halftime and held West Forsyth scoreless for almost 20 minutes into the second half, then forward Meredith Stewart got in on the action, an assist credited to Berry. A minute later, Berry got her second goal of the game with Skinner credited for a second assist. Then at almost the 71 minute mark (9:17 left in the game), forward Brittany Del Hiero hammered home the final goal of the night, the assist recorded by fellow forward Bridgette Scott.
It could have been worse but for some diving and leaping saves by Watauga’s sophomore goalkeeper, Cailey Haas.
“West Forsyth was the better team,” Watauga head coach Cat Wallace acknowledged afterwards to reporters. “I thought my girls gave it everything they had, but overall they beat us in every one versus one situation. You have to give them props for that. Their coaching, their technical ability, their ability to receive a ball….yeah, they were great, all over the field.”
Our goal was not just to get the ball wide to control it, but to get in wide to then put it into a dangerous spot.
While Wallace praised her student athletes for their hard work and dedication to improving throughout the season, she was also candid in suggesting that the seeding system doesn’t always put the very best teams in the later rounds.
“I watched West Forsyth play Providence in the second round,” she told a reporter who asked whether she thought it would be “this easy” for West Forsyth in a third round game, “and I thought that could very easily have been the state championship game. But that is just the way that the rankings go and that is the way that games go. For our part, we were ready for a good game and (West Forsyth) brought it.”
After a hard-fought, 2-0 win over a very strong Providence-Charlotte team in the second round, the Titans could easily have looked past what was on paper a very young Watauga team to an expected regional semifinal matchup against Myers Park-Charlotte, which finished the regular season undefeated in the Southwestern 4A Conference and advanced on Wednesday, 5-0, past T.C. Roberson.
“Providence was kind of a revenge game,” West Forsyth head coach Scott Bilton admitted. “We came up short against them in the semis last year. I’ll admit that I was nervous going into last week’s game against Providence, but our girls, collectively, came in when a phenomenal effort. It was good to seem them come out tonight with still a collective focus (on the task at hand). We want to continue to press. At no point during the year did we say that our goal was to beat Providence in the second round of the playoffs. Our goal is to continue to win. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. We need to play our brand of soccer.”
Bilton was generous with his praise of Watauga’s performance.
“Even though the shots were limited, there were two or three really good opportunities that Watauga created,” said Bilton. “#17 (Lilly Suyao) up top was pretty tireless (throughout the game). And #6 (Brynn Gould) was a heckuva ball player. On the ball and off the ball, her movement was pretty good. Defensively, they did a good job of condensing, centrally. The last two days of practice we’ve worked on getting the ball wide to create our opportunities and it seemed to be effective for us.
You get to play a team like West Forsyth, with rock stars all over the field and first touches that are perfect…
“Our goal was not just to get the ball wide to keep the ball,” Bilton observed, “but to get it wide to get it into a dangerous spot.”
The “when it rains, it pours” expression seems to fit the West Forsyth team, in a good way.
“All year it seems that when we get one, we get two or three in a row,” Bilton said in recalling the three quick first half goals scored by the Titans. “I don’t know if it is just a mentality or a hunger, but when we see success, the girls just say, ‘Let’s duplicate it.'”
It was hard for Watauga to get things going, offensively, as the Titans did a good job of controlling the midfield by overloading it.
“Their outside backs actually played more as outside midfielders,” Wallace pointed out. “They brought everybody except for their two center backs. That’s proved difficult for us to defend.”
Wallace certainly appreciated the higher level of competition that the “down the mountain” schools seem to face week in and week out, and what that means for their development.
“We pretty much play on the mountain at some level,” she noted, “but it is nowhere near this (level of play).”
To play in a game like this has benefits, even in the loss.
Our girls fought the whole time.
“It is a great experience for our team,” Wallace noted. “We got better today. It’s great to see what teams down the mountain are like. Now our girls are asking, ‘How can I improve?’ Well, I give them a list of things and they will take that list and work on them. The key question is, ‘What do they do with (that list)?’
“My encouragement to them,” added Wallace, “is that they have all summer to work on it. Come back better than you did in this game. Next game if you meet (West Forsyth) again, what does that game look like?
“We have a young team,” Wallace concluded. “I am excited for their future. I am excited for them to play together a little bit more. You play a team like West Forsyth, with rock stars all over the field and first touches that are perfect and you have to ask, ‘How do you react to that?’ My girls react in a way that I love. It is a new challenge that they have.
“I have a great group of girls,” Wallace smiled. “Their work ethic is top notch and that is something that I have not seen in a lot of teams. I commend them for that. They bought into a culture that we are trying to build at Watauga. They bought into the program, the fitness, and the idea of playing pretty soccer. I am so proud of this team. I am excited for what they will become and accomplish in the future. And this season? We worked our butts off to even get to here. I don’t care if it was 3-0 or 6-0, our girls fought the whole time.”