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What certainly seemed like a repeat of last year’s North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A girls soccer championship match loomed as host Wilson Christian and Alamance Christian were tied 2-2 in the final minutes of the state title game on a blazing hot Saturday afternoon.
But instead of four overtimes that the Lady Chargers needed to win the title in 2017, the 2018 final required none when Alamance Christian’s Charlotte Ward curled in a deep cross from a nearly impossible angle just inside the far post in the 74th minute. After responding to each of the Lady Warriors’ previous two goals, Wilson Christian had no answer in the final six minutes of the 3-2 defeat.
“Of course the heat was a factor the whole game and I think we were just exhausted after the first half, but we did well to get the second goal,” said senior midfielder Anna Grace Abrams, who scored both Wilson Christian goals. “She just had an incredible shot. There’s no way our goalie could have stopped it.”
Ward’s slicing shot proved to be the goal the Lady Warriors needed to complete an unbeaten season at 15-0, avenge last year’s loss and win their fourth NCCSA 2-A title in the last four years. It was the first loss for Wilson Christian (13-2-1) against an NCSSA team.
“They knew what they needed to do to get the job done,” Alamance Christian head coach Bob LaTour said of his team. “They’d lost one of their starting midfielders but that’s the way it goes. We had a couple of other girls banged up yesterday (in Friday’s semifinals win against Raleigh Friendship Christian) so I was really worried.”
Saturday’s match proved to be a physical, but clean, affair. The Lady Warriors lost starting midfielder Savannah Congdon, who was struck in the face by a ball in the first 10 minutes of the match. The heat took its toll on both sides, even with NCCSA-mandated hydration breaks in each half, but Alamance Christian was better able to navigate it.
“They are a team with a quantity offense; they get a lot of shots at goal,” WCA head coach Don Samson said, noting that the Lady Warriors outshot his team 13-9. “They settled in and, I mean, they’re solid all around. They’ve got depth and we couldn’t quite keep up with them. I thought we did a great job of hanging with them and minimizing what they did but small opportunities didn’t go our way.”
LaTour said his squad’s depth came into play late in the match, especially in the final minutes when Wilson Christian was playing catch-up again.
“I try to sub a lot of girls,” he said. “We drop off a little bit when I sub but it pays off. We had some girls and all they have is a little bit of speed and towards the end when we got up, that’s what we tried to do — just keep them beat.”
Alamance Christian struck first when Victoria Briggs converted a penalty kick in the 17th minute following a Lady Chargers foul in the box. However, the Lady Warriors barely had time to relax when Abrams sent in a deep drive from nearly 30 yards out that cleared the head of Alamance Christian keeper Mellany Daugherty and snaked under the crossbar to tie the score 1-1 less than a minute later.
Abrams would be a focus of the Alamance defense all day.
“We got man-marked a lot and it was hard to get off the ball. We just couldn’t find the final piece,” said Abrams.
LaTour praised freshman Bella Brown for her defense on Abrams, who was usually surrounded by several Lady Warriors whenever she got the ball.
“We couldn’t really connect in the midfield and we couldn’t really find our forwards as much as we wanted to,” Abrams said. “No. 13 (Hannah Ingle) was really strong in the back so it was really hard to get past her, but we had a lot of good opportunities that we could have finished.”
Lady Chargers senior forward Jenna Hunter also drew defensive focus, frustrating her attempts to cross the ball from the corners.
“There was kind of a big gap between the defense and the offense so it was either we push it forward and just let the offense run and get it, when we needed to push it to the middle,” Hunter said.
Meanwhile, Alamance Christian had yet to develop a cohesive offensive approach against Wilson Christian’s back line that included Caitlyn Barnes, Jenna Varnell, Lydia Renfrow and Brenda Reece, along with defensive midfielders Katelyn Parker and Kayla Tant. The Lady Warriors resorted to lobbing shots that WCA keeper Kendall Harris scooped up. Harris managed a nifty kick save in the final seconds of the first half on one of the few true scoring threats by Alamance Christian in the half.
But the Lady Warriors would test Harris, who finished with eight saves, more consistently in the second half while Wilson Christian’s offensive forays often sputtered in the final third of the field.
“I think we were, not timid but, they key on Anna Grace and take that out and I think it took a little while to establish what we were doing,” Samson said. “But they are a solid team throughout.”
The Lady Warriors reclaimed the lead in the 57th minute when Briggs took a pass from Hailey Ingle and, with a one-on-one with Harris right in front of the goal, sent it just inside the left post for a 2-1 lead.
Wilson Christian answered in the 66th minute when, after Alamance Christian was whistled for a handball on the second of two straight WCA corner kicks, Abrams buried the PK for the equalizer.
From there, the equally matched rivals seemed destined for overtime — again — until Ward’s shot eliminated the possibility.
It wasn’t the end that Abrams, Hunter and fellow senior Olivia Cooper envisioned for their final game but Alamance Christian proved to be a worthy successor.
“They’ve been waiting since the day they lost in overtime last year,” Abrams reminded, “four overtimes, to be exact.”