East Surry’s state quarterfinal in the NCHSAA 1A soccer playoffs will come off a day sooner than originally expected.
The Lady Cardinals, who earned a spot in the elite eight of the postseason for the first time ever after beating Pine Lake Prep 2-0 on Wednesday, are back on the road for their next assignment, a date with Gray Stone Day, co-champions of the Uwharrie Athletic Conference, this evening at 5:30 p.m.
The Lady Knights (15-3-2) earned their spot in the round of eight with a 4-1 win over Starmount on Wednesday. Gray Stone Day scored identical 9-0 mercy-rule wins over Hayesville and Queens Grant in the first two rounds of the tournament. The team is the fifth overall seed in the West and has been at home for every round of the postseason.
Both teams are carrying long winning streaks into their showdown. East Surry (13-7) has won nine straight matches, while the Lady Knights have won 11 in a row. They have just one common opponent, and that is only because the Lady Cardinals took on Pine Lake Prep in the third round, downing the Pride 2-0. Gray Stone Day had visited Pine Lake back on April 13, and beat them 6-0.
The impressive play of both teams has skyrocketed them up the MaxPreps.com power ratings in recent days. When the teams step onto the field, they will do so as the eighth- and 11th-ranked teams in the state 1A ranks, with the Lady Knights holding the higher rating. However, MaxPreps rates East Surry’s strength of schedule as being significantly higher. While GSD played conference rival and fellow powerhouse Union Academy twice and Community School of Davidson once, the Lady Cardinals have faced Bishop McGuinness twice in conference play, and also faced 2A quarterfinalists West Stokes twice and Forbush once.
On paper, Gray Stone rates as a slight favorite, especially at home, but the same was also true of West Montgomery in the second round, and East Surry defeated them 5-0. The Lady Cardinals also have the advantage of a red-hot goalkeeper. Senior Maggie Collins hasn’t allowed a goal since Mount Airy’s Baylee Greenwood, the state’s second-leading goal-scorer, tallied against her on April 28. More than 200 minutes of zeroes have followed that.
No team gets this far into the playoffs without being really good, and Gray Stone Day is no exception. The Lady Knights’ attack is led by senior Annie Habeeb, who has 41 goals and 37 assists this season. Junior Laurie Fogelman is next up, with 25 goals and 14 assists to her credit. Freshman Christina Gentile has found the back of the net 15 times, and senior Steffi Dejak has a dozen. Those are the only players with more than five goals, but 19 different Gray Stone players have at least one this season.
Sophomore Katie Leckonby is the primary net-minder for the Lady Knights. She has 84 saves in 20 matches this season. Three other players have played at keeper for GSD, but Leckonby has received the call for all of the Lady Knights’ toughest matches, and East Surry should expect to see her today.
The winner of the match will face either Community School of Davidson or Bishop McGuinness in the West Regional final on Tuesday. Regardless of the outcome of either match, either CSD or Bishop will host that match, as those two schools are the Nos. 1 and 3 overall seeds in the West, while Gray Stone and East Surry are 5 and 16, respectively. CSD and Bishop will play on Saturday at 6 p.m. on the field at Pine Lake Prep.
The match is tentatively scheduled to be played on the field at Gray Stone Day, located on Merner Terrace in Misenheimer. However, GSD officials indicated to media outlets that the match could be moved to nearby Pfeiffer University’s soccer field if overnight rains projected for Thursday night rendered the GSD field unplayable. The two venues are less than a mile apart.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.