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Although the collegiate women’s soccer season didn’t end as each had hoped last weekend, it was one heck of a ride for three former Fike High teammates.
Duke senior E.J. Proctor and junior Mary Love Taylor made their second trip to the NCAA Division I College Cup where the top-seeded Blue Devils were spilled in the semifinals by No. 2 UCLA on Friday in Orlando, Florida. In Kansas City, freshman Emilee Futrell and her Carson-Newman teammates were less than a minute away from winning the Div. II championship before ultimately losing on PKs to Central Missouri on Saturday afternoon.
It was a cruel crash to what had been a great freshman season for Futrell.
“When I got subbed out with about 30 minutes left, I had the biggest smile on my face and it was kind of unreal that it could change that quick,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Indeed, Futrell, who had the decisive goal and an assist in the Eagles’ 2-1 win over UC-Colorado Springs in Friday’s semifinals, was removed from the championship game in favor of Carson-Newman senior All-American Lauren Wade with 36 seconds to play. But just six seconds later, Central Missouri got a breakaway and the Eagles were whistled for a foul in the box, setting up a penalty kick. Jada Scott pounded it in to tie the score for the first time in nearly 71 minutes of play.
“At first it was panic and there were some girls freaking out more than others but the older girls calmed them down and said there was no reason to freak out,” Futrell said.
However, after playing two 10-minute overtime periods, the game would be decided by PKs. Each side connected on their first three shots but, after CMU made its fourth one, Carson-Newman missed. Central Missouri closed it out by making its final attempt, going 6 for 6 on PKs in the match.
“I’m more angry than I am sad,” Futrell said.
She was, however, happy with her freshman season in which she played in 22 of the Eagles’ 23 games, starting three times. Futrell’s nine goals were third on the team despite having to deal with calf issues that slowed her down during the season.
“It definitely feels good to know that I can overcome that,” said Futrell, who also overcame knee problems during her junior year at Fike.
Futrell, who played mostly midfield coming up through the ranks, played forward exclusively this season.
In a season that ranks as the best in Carson-Newman history, the Eagles finished 21-1-1 and ranked No. 2 in the final United Soccer Coaches rankings. Carson-Newman also became the first South Atlantic Conference women’s soccer team to play for a national championship.
“I don’t think I could have picked a better place. I love it here,” Futrell said.
She said that the day she signed her National Letter of Intent in February her father, Jeff, predicted Carson-Newman would win a national title. After the bitter sting of defeat Saturday, Futrell can’t wait to get back on the field.
“I’m definitely set for next year, especially after this weekend,” she said.
She was surprised in Kansas City by Fike soccer coach Toni Varacchi, who made a quick trip to join her parents, Jeff and Debby Futrell, in the stands.
“I know I wanted all the support I could get,” Emilee Futrell said.
She also took time to root for Duke and her two former teammates who were returning the love in Orlando. Despite being focused on the job at hand, both Proctor, Duke’s starting goalkeeper, and Love, a reserve defender, said they were happy to know that Futrell was shining.
“Even though I was heartbroken for us losing I was excited for her,” Taylor said. “I think it’s really cool that all three of us were there.”
The three players were teammates at Fike in 2014 when the Lady Demons went 21-3-1 and reached the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A semifinals, where they lost to eventual state champion Chapel Hill 2-0.
Proctor, who grew up “just down the road” from the Futrells, said: “That was awesome to see her there. She was always fun to play with. I’m glad she got that experience to play in a national championship.”
DUKE DENIED AGAIN
Proctor had that experience in 2015 when she and the Blue Devils made an unlikely NCAA tournament run to the College Cup final in Cary, only to lose 1-0 to Penn State. Proctor was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player. However, this season Duke was not going to sneak up on anyone in the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils, who finished 23-2-1, set a school record for victories and went 10-0-0 in winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Proctor set Duke records for shutouts in a season with 14 and goals-against average (0.35). She ranked No. 3 nationally in shutouts and seventh in GAA.
But after coming so close in 2015, it was championship or bust for Proctor and the Blue Devils this season.
“I remember I was talking to one my assistant coaches before the game (Friday) and I said this is one of those games that I love playing in goal because it’s in my control,” Proctor said. “All I have to do is stop them from scoring.”
And she did for 110 minutes but Duke didn’t score either. For a Duke offense that had found ways to put the ball in the net all season, it was an uncharacteristic goose egg.
“Everyone did what they were supposed to do to a T,” Proctor said. “It’s one of those games where we struggled offensively. … I think we just struggled to connect in that game and that’s why it went to PKs.”
Proctor did her part during the shootout, making a diving save of the Bruins’ third shot. However, that only allowed Duke to tie the score as the Blue Devils’ Malinda Allen hit the crossbar in the second round. After each team found the net in the fourth round, UCLA keeper Teagan Micah saved Kat McDonald’s shot and Marley Canales squeezed her shot past Proctor to send the Bruins into the championship match, where they lost to Stanford.
Proctor said that after her save, she thought that with the Blue Devils working “on PKs all the time,” they would prevail.
“We just didn’t win it,” she said.
A STERLING CAREER
Proctor, who has finished all the work toward her degree and will participate with her classmates at Duke’s graduation ceremony in the spring, leaves quite a legacy. She owns the school records for career shutouts with 35 and GAA with 0.65. She credited her back line of fellow seniors Morgan Reid and Schuyler DeBree and junior Chelsea Burns, along with Christina Gibbons the last two seasons and Taylor Mitchell this season, for her success in goal the past three years.
“I think I honestly, the back line I had in front of me the three years I was playing, I don’t know there was a better one they’ve had here,” Proctor said.
She said she hopes to continue playing soccer at the professional level either in the U.S. or abroad. However for Taylor, it’s one more shot at winning Duke’s first national championship.
“I’m really excited about next year,” said Taylor, who played in only one match this season. “There was about six or seven seniors who started an played and they’re all incredible people and players, including E.J.”
Taylor echoed Proctor’s sentiments on the closeness of the Duke team.
“I think it’s been such an awesome experience coming here,” Taylor said. “Now it’s a really awesome culture to be a part of and no matter what, we are really going to fight together to achieve our goals.”