HUNTERSVILLE – It’s hard to lose if you don’t allow any goals.
That’s been Lake Norman Charter’s romp through the N.C. 1A girls soccer playoffs. The Knights shut out all four playoff opponents to reach the state championship – 9-0 against West Montgomery High, 2-0 against South Stokes, 3-0 against Union Academy and 1-0 against Hendersonville.
Lake Norman Charter (17-3-3) will play Raleigh Charter (20-1) for the N.C. 1A championship at 8 p.m. May 25 at N.C. State’s Deal Field.
“We’re probably playing some of the best soccer we’ve played all year,” Lake Norman Charter coach Justin Valenti said. “My defense is all seniors and they’re among our team captains. We’re solid in the back.”
The defense is anchored by center back Rina Leonidas and outside backs Kylie Brown and Briana Del Valle. They’ve been a solid wall in front of talented goalkeeper Carolyn Huddy, a UNC Wilmington signee.
It’s not just about the Knights piling up zeroes; they’ve barely allowed any shots against Huddy. In four playoffs, Lake Norman Charter opponents have two, four, five and two shots (13 total). The Knights in the same span have fired 33, 30, 11 and 10 shots (84 shots).
The defense also has triggered a smooth transition game. They effectively move the ball forward to midfielders Leeanne Smithers (four goals, two assists) and Carolina Sanchez (13 goals, three assists). From there, Lake Norman’s deep offense takes over.
Riley Kane has scored a team-high 19 goals, including the lone score in the 1-0 win against Hendersonville in the 35th minute of the semifinal. Erin Iknayan (15 goals, eight assists), Julie Johnson (11 goals, seven assists), Taylor Gilbert (10 goals) and Madeline Iknayan (15 assists) give opposing defenders plenty to try to contain.
“We’ve created a stepping stone to create any type of attack,” Valenti said. “We’re connecting our backs (defenders) to our outside midfielders better this year. We’re playing hard, we’re playing smart and we’re hitting the target players.”
Lake Norman Charter’s core of seniors, many who’ve been starters since they were sophomores, is having playoff success for the third straight season. As sophomores they reached the state semifinals. As juniors they advanced to the state quarterfinals. This season, they’re 80 minutes from a potential state championship.
“Our seniors are very well-rounded,” Valenti said. “They finally got over that hump this year.”
Lake Norman Charter benefited from playing a tough non-conference schedule. The Knights’ 1-2-2 start included a loss to Hough High (the reigning N.C. 4A champion) and a tie against 4A Hopewell. That was followed by 10 straight victories. The Knights also played a scoreless tie against 3A Gastonia Ashbrook (17-2-3 record) and lost to 3A Marvin Ridge (17-4 record).