Knights set sights on a long playoff run
by Staff Writer
This playoff season, the Lake Norman Charter girls soccer team is determined to take nothing for granted.
The Knights, with a sparkling 13-1 record and the No. 3 spot in the state’s Class 1A poll, have the tools to make a deep venture into the playoffs. They’ll hope to avoid what happened a year ago, when they lost 2-1 to Monroe Central Academy in the quarterfinals.
“We’re in a position where we know, and not to be boastful or cocky, where we are in 1A,” coach Justin Valenti said. “We’re one of the better teams, one of the top five teams, if not one of the best. But it’s how to transition from regular games into playoffs.
“Last year, they were overconfident from the year prior (2010), when we made it to the semifinals,” he said. “This year, they’re not taking it for granted. If they truly want to win the state championship, you have to show success throughout the whole season and build upon what we need to. In that regard, we’re doing a lot better.”
Lake Norman Charter is on a 12-match winning streak. It has won five of the past six matches by shutout. The Knights have outscored opponets 49-8, and five of the goals allowed were in one match (a 5-4 loss to Concord Cannon).
They’ve swept all nine matches in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference, and have clinched the league championship.
The offense is spread among several scorers. The defense has played consistently well. The goalkeeping has been mostly airtight because it’s not being blasted by dozens of shots every game.
The combination makes Lake Norman Charter one of the state’s best, and a championship contender.
“We’ve grown together since my freshman year,” said junior Carolina Sanchez. “The team keeps getting bigger and stronger.”
Sanchez and sophomore Riley Kane are tied for the team lead with 10 goals apiece. Senior Katie Fabian has scored six, and Rina Leonidas, a junior, has five. Midfielder Leanne Smithers has a team-leading five assists.
“We’re unselfish,” goalkeeper Carolyn
Huddy said. “We play with three (forwards) up top, so they’re constantly rotating. Everyone has an opportunity at forward, and we push our midfielders up.”
The defenders – Sam Sherman, Kylie Brown, Shannon Garrison and Brianna Del Valle – keep the pressure away from the goalkeepers.
“We’ve got a solid back four (defenders),” Sherman said. “There are not really that many weaknesses. It’s strong all the way through. I think it’s more important than offense.”
On the rare occasion when an opponent gets a clean shot, Huddy is there to make a save.
“Huddy always saves our butts,” Sanchez said. “I know I feel very confident with Huddy back there. If there’s a breakaway, I know Huddy would do anything to stop it.”
Huddy, a junior, said the team’s success is a combination of leadership, communication and confidence.
“You can’t be afraid to boss people around,” she said. “You’re doing that (as a goalkeeper) 90 percent of the game. You have to have focus, too, and a good attention span.”
Valenti said depth is another factor in the sterling record. He has 25 players, and about 16-18 play every game. It’s the first season the Knights have had players in all four grades. The team is filled with mostly juniors, but four freshmen are starters, which means Lake Norman Charter should be set for the future.
“With the amount of subs we have, we can pull them off (during a game) and explain to them what we’re trying to do,” Valenti said. “We’re playing at a level we need to, not playing down to the competition. The leadership is finally there. Last year, we had some great players, but we weren’t cohesive as a group. This year, they’re defining their roles better, where I can tell them ‘You guys have to figure this out, this is what I need you to do. Be leaders.’ Last year I would have had to baby-feed them.
“A major help is having a group of girls that have played into a system and understand what kind of play they need to do. Whether it’s a good (opponent) or bad, if they want to be as successful as they want, we can’t worry about anyone else. We have to define our own path.”