Hough girls soccer is reaching lofty status
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
It’s easy for the Hough High girls soccer team to share the wealth when none of the Huskies seek the spotlight.
Hough is 10-0-1 overall and 5-0 in I-MECK 4A conference games. They’ve won six games by shutouts, and have outscored opponents 48-6. The Huskies are No. 5 in the state poll (eurosportscoreboard.com), and No. 9 nationally in the Powerade Fab 50 poll.
“We’ve had 14 different girls score,” Hough coach David Smith said. “I think it’s a real testament to our approach, the girls’ approach, the way they play. We don’t have anybody here consumed by numbers. We don’t have anybody driven by what they’re doing versus the other girls (teammates).
“I think that starts with our senior leaders, Allison (Stearns) and Hannah (Robinson). They’re not worried about numbers or worried about their stats. They’re concerned with making sure the team is doing what we need to do. I think that’s a huge thing.”
Morgan Byrne and Stearns each have a team-leading nine goals, followed by Brandi Arey (six goals), Robinson (five) and Courtney Carroll (four).
Robinson leads Hough with nine assists, and Lindsey Byrne has seven. Stearns has six assists, Brianna Cuevas five, and Nicole Duncan and Arey four apiece.
Hough loaded its non-conference schedule with tough tests and has passed each one. The Huskies tied Myers Park (7-1-2 record), and has victories against ranked teams Ardrey Kell (6-2-1), Providence (8-2), Weddington (9-1-1) and East Forsyth (8-4-1).
They’re tempered by knowing that another state power looms nearby. Hough will host conference rival Lake Norman (12-0), the state’s No. 2 team at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 29. They met three times last season, and another playoff meeting is highly possible this year.
Hough has made a smooth transition from last year’s 22-4-1 squad that reached the N.C. Class 4A semifinals. Nearly every player returned, which made adjustment time minimal.
“I think it’s a huge advantage not losing anyone,” said defender Alison Vest. “It’s sort of like the season didn’t end, and we have the same people. We kind of meshed back together, because we are close enough. We all know how to play to each other’s advantages.
“We all know how each other plays a little bit better, and we have a lot of communication on the field. We’ve learned that works best.”
Hough has won four of the past five games by shutout. Sophomore Marnie Merritt was in net for each. She qualifies as the team’s biggest “surprise,” but it’s not really that much of a shock.
Last season, she was a backup to Emily Rusk, one of the state’s top goalkeepers. Rusk bypassed her senior season to enroll early at the University of Alabama in January, and get a head start on her college soccer career. The Huskies plugged in Merritt, and haven’t missed a beat.
“It’s been a seamless transition, because we knew what Marnie was capable of last year as a backup,” Smith said. “Anywhere else in the state, she’d have been starting as a freshman.”
Merritt said after some initial nerves, she’s settled into her role.
“I was nervous at first, but I really learned a lot from Emily last year,” Merritt said. “She taught me how the high school game was a different style of game. I looked up to her like that. But I really like the excitement.
“What I’ve learned is that I have to accept the goals that are going to be scored. I like the pressure of how it’s all riding on me. At the same time, you have to learn that the sun’s going to come out tomorrow. The game goes on. It’s all about making yourself better.”
Hough and Lake Norman are lengths ahead of the rest of the conference teams. It means they must guard against complacency when playing lesser teams, and making practices competitive and effective.
“We have almost a business-like approach,” Smith said. “Sometimes we started slowly in our non-conference games, but we’ve finished extremely well in every game. I think that’s one thing I want to make sure we continue to improve on, is to not come out slow. You don’t want to have that one game where you come out slow and can’t recover.
“I like how we are creating opportunities offensively. We are very fluid in our attack. It shows that we had that continuity that carried over from last year. Once we got the first couple weeks under our belt, in terms of training and scrimmaging, you could tell we were in a unique position to have so many people back from last year. We’re moving the ball very well.”