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Rachel Cox never saw it coming.
The Hunt High graduate, who will continue her soccer career at NCAA Division II Barton College as a goalkeeper, headlined the inaugural Wilson Youth Soccer Association High School Girls All-County Team, announced Wednesday.
Cox, who anchored a stout Hunt defense to a 14-3 record, an undefeated run through the 3-A Big East Conference and a second-round appearance in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association postseason, only allowed eight goals all season and oversaw 10 shutouts for the defensive-minded Lady Warriors.
As such, Cox earned the title of “Wilson County Miss Soccer” and led the 13-player group of two goalkeepers, four defenders, four midfielders, and three forwards. The selections were made through a WYSA committee, based on the total pool of nominations received through county coaches.
While this was the first WYSA All-County Team for the girls, the initial boys team was announced and released in November after the conclusion of the fall season.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Cox said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I’m very happy to be that, and it just shows me that hard work does pay off in spending that extra time on the soccer field out at practices was definitely worth it.”
Cox was joined in goal by Fike graduate Jah’Asia Pernell. The back line contains Wilson Christian graduate Jenna Varnell, Hunt rising senior Alea Jones, Fike rising senior Riley Patterson and Hunt rising sophomore Kaley Gesell.
In the midfield, the group deploys Hunt rising junior Kristen Armstrong, Hunt graduate Camille Ruiz, Hunt rising junior Mackenzie Tyson and Fike rising sophomore Hannah Mosley.
Along the attacking third are forwards Lea Gossett of Wilson Christian, a rising junior, Hunt graduate Sophia Fox and Greenfield rising eighth grader Serenity McNair.
While the recognition as Wilson County’s top girls player came as a surprise to Cox, the development of Hunt’s defense as a stingy unit that allowed it to overcome goal-scoring droughts was not. Hunt had seven of the 13 selections to the all-county team, with Fike tallying three. Wilson Christian had a pair, while Greenfield rounded out the group with McNair.
Five of the eight spots on the defense and midfield went to the Lady Warriors.
“I think from tryouts of senior year, I could tell we were going to have a strong defensive line,” Cox said. “We had returners coming in, and then we had new freshman coming in that were going to be very strong on the back line.”
That belief was confirmed on a cold, miserable night at The Brittany, when Hunt opposed Kill Devil Hills First Flight, the 2018 NCHSAA 2-A champion. Hunt lost 3-0 in a match that would later be forfeited by First Flight, but the way Hunt’s addressed the Nighthawks’ speed gave Cox a reason for optimism.
“We weren’t expecting to be able to keep up with them that much,” Cox said. “I think that game, we definitely thought we were going to be able to hang with the big teams because of our defensive line.”
But on the occasions that opponents reached Cox in one-on-one situations, it still wasn’t easy. Cox was credited with 117 saves, or just under seven per contest.
“It’s always one-on-ones, your heart’s racing,” Cox said. “You’re trying to think of what to do, when to attack to stay back or to go up. Just sitting back for that forward to make that wrong touch, for me to go out and collapse on the ball. I’m just waiting for that one touch I can go out and get it.”
Pernell remained busy in net for the Lady Golden Demons, making a total of 202 saves. Fike finished with an 8-9-1 record, but Pernell’s average of 11.2 saves per game kept the offensively challenged Lady Demons within range with her athleticism in net. Four defeats were by two goals or less.
Jones and Gesell were two of the anchors on the Hunt back line. Gesell dispossessed forwards on 48 occasions, with Jones credited with 37 steals. Gesell had one assist.
Varnell’s presence helped the Lady Chargers to a 13-5-1 record and an appearance in the North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A championship game. For Fike, Patterson was a central figure in front of Pernell, remaining active on the back end.
The speed of Hunt’s Armstrong stood to give opponents trouble on through balls from the midfield. Armstrong finished tied for second on the team with seven goals, while adding three assists. Ruiz and Tyson had three goals each and were primary facilitators in initiating the Hunt attack. Mosley could join the Fike attack and ably drop back in defense as needed.
Up front, Hunt’s Fox joined Armstrong as two speedy linchpins of Hunt’s offense. While the striking prowess from distance was not a focal point, speed and skill defeated opponents as Fox led the Lady Warriors with 14 goals. Eight of those were of the game-winning variety.
Battling injury and physical ailments throughout her sophomore campaign, Gossett was the focal point of Wilson Christian’s offensive attack when on the field. Capable of playing multiple positions, opponents had to adjust to any spot to which she was moved.
Greenfield’s McNair led the Lady Knights with 29 goals and six assists as the Lady Knights turned in a 12-9 record and reached the semifinals of the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A playoffs.