Leesville Road senior Stephanie Bronson jumps into the arms of fellow senior Brooke Johnson (12) after the Pride's 3-0 victory over Ardrey Kell. ETHAN HYMAN - email@example.com
By Nate Taylor, Staff Writer
CARY -- This season was always about pushing forward for Leesville Road’s girls soccer team. The Pride did it again and again. The season-ending injuries to Kelsey Reeves and Kelsey Weiss. Coach Paul Dinkenor playing inexperienced freshman Zaria Maynard in goal. Even the tough, demanding victories in overtime of these playoffs.
The Pride just kept pushing.
By playing with poise and structure in the midfield, the Pride pushed past previously unbeate Charlotte Ardrey Kell – for the third time in four years – to take a 3-0 victory for the NCHSAA 4-A state title.
This was a rematch for both teams as Leesville Road beat Ardrey Kell in the championship matches in 2008 and 2009.
Two obstacles met Leesville Road in the championship match Friday night at WakeMed Soccer Park. One was Ardrey Kell, the No. 4-ranked team in the country. The other was rainfall that delayed the match for 30 minutes and pushed the start time to a late 9:40 p.m.
“We’re used to this because we’ve been here before and we’ve dealt with a lot to weather like this,” midfielder Stephanie Bronson said.
With Bronson creating multiple scoring chances with precise passes, the Pride (24-1-1) took a 1-0 lead after a goal from midfielder Rachel Hunter in the 19th minute. Hunter, who has been used more on defense in these playoffs, scored on a rebound shot from 20 yards away.
“I’ve never seen Stephanie play better in my entire life,” forward Caroline Gentry said of Bronson. “She played with everything she had and there’s nothing better she could have done.”
Ardrey Kell goalkeeper Mackenzie Stelljes did get her hands on the wet ball, but with steady rainfall for most of the night, the shot slipped through and rolled into the net.
Immediately after Leesville Road’s goal, NCHSAA officials stopped play for a 30-minute delay caused by lightning.
The stoppage came after both teams waited for the match to start. The 2-A title match – which Waxhaw Cuthbertson won over Carrboro on penalty kicks (5-4) – started 40 minutes late before taking more than 100 minutes to decide a winner.
To start the second half, Ardrey Kell coach Jeff Mercado replaced Stelljes, a junior, with freshman Samantha Steyl in goal.
The move seemed to give the Knights energy. They mustered three scoring chances early, before Bronson was able to give the Pride control of the tempo.
“I think if you have possession you’re going to control the tempo,” Hunter said. “That means everything for us and our strength is our passing.”
The Pride extended its lead with the help of Gentry.
Throughout this season, Dinkenor had played Gentry on the near side of the field to make runs for her crosses. Against a talented team in the Knights (25-1), Dinkenor decided to have Gentry float on the field, which allowed her to make runs.
The Pride scored its second goal in the 47th minute when Gentry took a shot from 20 yards away. An Ardrey Kell defender tried to clear Gentry’s shot, but she missed and the ball went past Steyl and into the net.
“I just took it in and I saw the open shot,” Gentry said. “I just tried to finish it off, so when it went in I thought, ‘Wow, we got this.’ ”
On defense, the Pride was able to keep Ardrey Kell forward Liska Dobberstein, the team’s leading scorer, marked and neutralized for much of the match.
The Pride scored their third goal on a header from midfielder Kellie Baker in the 62nd minute. She scored her third goal of the playoffs on an assist from Hunter.
“That third goal was the killer goal,” Dinkenor said. “That’s just wonderful for Kellie Baker.”