By David Rogers. May 13, 2017. BOONE, NC – Don’t call them lily pads, because these girls can swim. Freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, Australian crawl, dog paddle…the Watauga High School women’s SOCCER team can do them all. And their coach? She can roll the dice and pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat.
COVER IMAGE: Brynne Gould (in pink) gets mugged and hugged by teammate Lilly Suyao as the rest of the Pioneers storm the field when Gould stopped a Grimsley penalty kick to seal Watauga’s victory. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
SLIDESHOW OF 76 IMAGES AT BOTTOM
Video Highlights, Courtesy of Kristen Sevensky
Cutting to the chase, Watauga advanced to Rd. 3 of the North Carolina 4A championship tournament on penalty kicks and awaits the winner of Saturday night’s match between Providence and West Forsyth. If top-seeded West Forsyth prevails, then the Pioneers will travel to Clemmons. If the 15th seeded Providence eleven win, then Watauga will host. Either way, the Rd. 3 game is scheduled for Wednesday, May 17th at 7:00 pm.
But that is hardly the story. Weather Underground reports that Boone received 0.80 inches of rain on Friday. If that is accurate, then it all came down at Jack Groce Stadium during the Round 2 match-up pitting host Watauga against the visiting Greensboro-Grimsley Whirlies. And we have scores of parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, and High Country soccer officionados who huddled under umbrellas to prove it.
Somehow it made it in.
The two sides battled to a 1-1 tie after 110 minutes that included regulation play (80 minutes), two overtime halves (10 minutes each), and two opportunities for sudden victory (5 minutes each).
It took almost four hours, though, in part because of a 30-minute lightning delay with a little more than 6 minutes remaining in the first overtime period. Add in a halftime intermission during regulation, breaks between each overtime period, a few injury stoppages (mostly for athletes’ legs cramping) and a bizarre, lengthy discussion between a Grimsley coach and the referee — after the coach received a yellow card — and you had the makings of a long night under the best of conditions.
But these conditions were hardly perfect. With a moat forming around the field to the point where players drug their feet through large puddles of water when throwing the ball in from out of bounds, by night’s end there was unlikely any dry spot on any of the athletes’ bodies on either team.
It all came down to penalty kicks to decide which worthy adversary would advance to the third round of the state playoffs and the Pioneers won the night in that regard, 4-3.
But this is where Watauga head coach Catherine Wallace arguably rolled the dice. She inserted her star center forward Brynne Gould in front of the net as goalkeeper to protect the Pioneer honor against the Whirlies’ PKs.
Tall, lighting quick, and unafraid of anything on a soccer field, the three-sport senior veteran Gould came through. Perhaps it was the leaping ability she gained as a fierce outside hitter in volleyball. Perhaps it was the sharp eye-hand coordination acquired in playing varsity basketball. But Gould rose to the occasion, quite literally.
These girls exceeded my expectations at every turn.
Through the first five PKs for each side, the score was tied. Each goalie had stopped two, including Gould’s leap to the left to poke the ball high into the air before settling into her arms in front of the goal.
A new set of five kickers from each side lined up at midfield. Coach Wallace sent young Jo Hill first to the penalty kick stripe, a mere 28 feet in front of the goal to face the menacing stare of the Whirlies’ goalkeeper.
As players and coaches gathered their belongings and packed away equipment on the sideline after all was said and done, Hill relived for Blowing Rock News what turned out to be half of the winning moment.
“When Coach Wallace called on me as the sixth kicker,” she recalled with a broadening smile, “I was nervous. But I took a couple of deep breaths. I didn’t hit it perfectly to where I wanted, but it slipped under the goalkeeper’s arms. It made it in.”
As suggested, with Watauga kicking first, Hill’s success was only half of the winning moment in what had emerged as sudden death overtime for overtime’s overtime.
The rest was up to Gould. It seemed almost a carbon copy of her last save, a GK deflection bouncing off the top horizontal bar to sail high into the air before being gathered safely up by the tall fireball of a soccer veteran.
Asked by Blowing Rock News after the match how much time she had spent in a goalkeeper’s role, Gould smiled broadly in saying, “This is really the first time. Oh, I played goalie one game (a few years ago) in 15s (youth soccer), but the first time I knew that I might be in goal was during the lightning delay tonight. Coach Wallace just came up to me and said that if we go into PKs, I was going in front of the net.”
Starting sophomore goalkeeper Cailey Haas darted and dashed and dove and jumped in front of the net during regular play, at times making improbable saves and making only one mistake: a rain-slicked ball that changed direction mid-course by deflection through the worst of the downpour and slipped through her hands for the Whirlies’ first and only goal in regulation.
But Wallace went with the larger physical presence of Gould, a senior with many years of competitive soccer experience and one of the best all-around athletes to grace Watauga’s courts and fields, ever.
And there is no question that this was a complete team win. Given the miserable conditions – and the rain seemed to intensify as the game went on during regulation play – it is a near-miracle to have seen the sharp, one- and two-touch ball-handling and passing skills of the Lady Pioneers AND the Grimsley Whirlies.
Ironically, Watauga seemed to dominate possession in the first half, but that is when Grimsley drew first blood two-thirds of the way through the half. The Whirlies controlled the ball more after halftime. They looked and played as if determined to salt away the win.
The rain may have provided us with a home field advantage.
And with the downpour persisting, it appeared they just might. But with just over 11 minutes remaining in regulation, Watauga’s Sadye Franklin lofted a free kick from near the left sideline approximately 25 yards out. Center forward Lilly Suyao found it in front of the goal and poked it into the net for the Pioneers’ tying goal.
“I think Wednesday night’s overtime win was good experience for my girls,” Wallace noted to Blowing Rock News afterwards. “My girls are fit. They know what to expect. We pretty much stuck to the same game plan the whole time and I was really proud of them for the way they handled themselves.”
What was her expectation for the game, given the weather?
“I feel like I have had this question a lot,” she answered, “because it seems the majority of the games that we have played this season have been in the rain up here.
“We may have had a home field advantage,” Wallace added, “because we consistently play in pouring rain. It obviously affects the touch of the ball and the field, but mentally I don’t think it has a huge effect on my players anymore.
“As a team,” the coach observed, “they always surprise me. I specifically asked them to do a couple of things tonight and they went above and beyond my expectation. Individually, each person on the team outperformed my expectations.
“Especially under these conditions,” concluded Wallace, “possession is key because mistakes can be catastrophic. Our passing and ball control were where they needed to be, for the most part.”
Wallace was named the Pioneers’ head women’s soccer coach in mid-January, but has been quick to impact the Watauga athletic program. As a varsity player for Lenoir-Rhyne University from 2008-11, she knows the level of fitness required to play soccer at a high level and she demands it from her players, just as she has expected it from the travel teams for various age groups she has coached for High Country United Soccer Association before becoming the high school’s head coach.
That commitment to fitness and preparation is paying off. After playing to a triple overtime, sudden victory win over Charlotte-Independence just two days earlier, on Wednesday, the grind of a quadruple-overtime, waterlogged contest could have been daunting. When you add to it that the Pioneers featured a young lineup of only one senior, two juniors, a bunch of sophomores and a sprinkling of freshmen — and at times it appeared to be David pestering Goliath against the senior-laden squad from Greensboro — Friday night’s success was just all that much more remarkable.
“Coach asked us to pester them,” Hill shared with Blowing Rock News, “to disrupt their possession. We knew they were older and we could see that they were mostly bigger than us.”
Watauga advances to Round 3 of the playoffs for the first time in a long time. According to records going back to 2008 that are available online and maintained by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association:
- 2008 – Watauga beat Davie, 3-0, in Rd. 1 before losing to East Forsyth in Rd. 2, 5-1
- 2009 – Watauga lost to Providence, 2-0, in Rd. 1
- 2010 – DID NOT QUALIFY
- 2011 – Watauga lost to Mallard Creek, 4-0, in Rd. 1
- 2012 – Watauga defeated McDowell, 4-1, in Rd. 1 before losing 5-0 in Rd. 2 to A.C. Reynolds
- 2013 – Watauga defeated Mooresville, 1-0, in Rd. 1 before losing 2-0 in Rd. 2 to A.C. Reynolds
- 2014 – Watauga lost to Olympic, 3-1, in Rd. 1
- 2015 – Watauga lost to Providence, 9-0, in Rd. 1
- 2016 – Watauga lost to Ronald Reagan, 1-0, in Rd. 1
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News