CORNELIUS – Same opponent. Same field. Same prize at stake.
But unfortunately for the Hough High girls soccer team, the result was different one year later.
The Huskies lost 2-0 to Cary Green Hope in the N.C. 4A championship match May 25 at N.C. State’s Dail Field in Raleigh. It was a rematch of last year’s title game, which Hough won 2-1.
The Huskies had decent chances.
“We’re disappointed right now, but at the same time, to get to the same point as last year is a great accomplishment,” Hough coach David Smith said. “We were only down 1-0 with seven minutes left. We were right there, we had chances and we just couldn’t capitalize.”
Green Hope’s victory capped a 28-0 season. The Falcons likely will be a national champion, as they entered the game ranked No. 1 in one poll. Senior forward Alexis Shaffer was named the championship Most Valuable Player.
Green Hope took a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute when Shaffer took the ball down the right side, wheeled to the left and fired a left-footed shot into the net for her 39th goal of the season. The Falcons controlled play most of the first half.
Hough pressed the action in the second half, but couldn’t solve goalkeeper Lisa Armstrong, who made seven saves. It was the first time Hough (21-3) was shut out all season. The result snapped the Huskies’ seven-match winning streak.
Green Hope clinched it with six minutes left when midfielder Kenley Sigmon dribbled past two Hough defenders and drilled a low goal for a 2-0 margin.
Hough reached the title game despite replacing nine players from last year’s championship squad.
“We had a good group coming back,” Smith said. “We had some growing pains early in the season. We learned a lot about ourselves in the Lake Norman games.”
The I-MECK 4A conference was unbalanced, with Lake Norman and Hough not much of a match for the other six teams. Lake Norman beat Hough in both of the regular-season matches (both by one goal) to win the conference title.
For the third season in a row, the rivals met in the fourth round of the state playoffs. Hough won 2-1 in overtime.
“We hit our stride in late May,” Smith said. “We won four playoff games, all on the road, including Lake Norman and Myers Park (both in overtime).”
Hough should be a state championship contender next year, too. Only four of its 11 starters were seniors. Goalkeeper Marnie Merritt will lead a strong group of returnees.
“She was fantastic the last two or three games,” Smith said. “Then again, she was all season. We see Marnie every day. We’re used to it, but we don’t take it for granted.”
“We’re very excited about next year, and I’m proud of what the girls did. We brought up five junior varsity players for the playoffs. It was two-fold – to reward them for a great season and to give us a little bit of a spark in practice.”