KING — West Stokes ended its historical soccer season Saturday much like it has every other match for the past three months, with a refuse-to-lose attitude.
In a 2-0 triumph over Washington in the NCHSAA state 2A women’s soccer championship held at N.C. State University the Lady Wildcats lived up to their fierce reputation.
In spite of losing six seniors last year, five of which were starters, Coach Chris Manley said going to the end was always their ultimate goal.
“At the beginning of the year, we mention it one time and then we go to work. The more time I spent with this team, the more I realized they had the right intangibles to accomplish anything,” Manley said.
In the first 15 minutes of Saturday’s game Manley could see the girls were nervous but once they began executing, they realized they were the better team and seemed to calm down.
“I feel like we played well enough in the defensive third and the middle third of the field. In the first half, we weren’t that sharp near the box, though,” Manley said.
That may explain why the Wildcats controlled possession through much of the first half but came up empty on the scoreboard.
It stayed 0-0 until senior midfielder Taylor Hopper broke the tie in the 61st minute on a give and go, with junior forward Alex Jellison passing to a cutting Hopper, who tucked the ball into the right side of the goal with her left foot. Hopper, who was selected as the championship’s most valuable player, tallied her 22nd goal of the year to make it 1-0.
“Taylor is physically gifted, and she is the one player that can change a game against any opponent. Her go-ahead goal was an example of what she is capable of, and without that goal, Washington puts up a much bigger fight in the last 20 minutes,” Manley said.
In the 74th minute, West Stokes put it away on an unassisted goal by all-state performer Morgan Snow, her 24th score of the season.
Washington keeper Emily Alligood made a fingertip save of a header by Tori Van Meter, but Snow secured the rebound and knocked it in.
Washington was hampered by injuries, one of which was Christian Heggie, the Pam Pack’s leading scorer with 55 goals and 10 assists throughout the season.
“Washington had a ton of heart and a very good defense and goalkeeper. They were smaller and fitter than we pictured, but even playing with 12 players in our sub rotation, we were able to wear them down by the second half. In their defense, they were missing two attackers to injuries and that affects offense, defense, and their team sub rotations,” Manley said.
West Stokes had eight shots on goal to four for Washington and the Wildcats had four corner kicks to just one for the Pam Pack.
This was the first trip for both teams to the NCHSAA state girls’ soccer title match. West Stokes finished with a record of 25-2-1 while Washington wound up 22-3 and had a 21-match winning streak snapped.
Team captain Van Meter was awarded the NCHSAA Sportsmanship Award.
“Tori is going to be greatly missed; she’s our leader in many ways. She leads by example on and off the field and has really bought in to our program and what we stand for,” Manley said.
The coach is proud of the girls and what they’ve accomplished.
“I think it’s a step for female athletes and for the sport of soccer. I hope everyone sees my team and tries to emulate them on and off the field, because they are great examples for all student-athletes,” Manley said.
Stokes County rallied around the championship team by seeing them off to Raleigh on Friday and welcoming the girls back to King Saturday afternoon with a hometown fanfare of signs and cheering.
This is the second state title for the school in the past three years as the football team won the 2A-A title in 2011.
“I hope our state championship reignites the community support from two years ago, which from what I saw Saturday, looks like it has,” Manley said.