When the N.C. High School Athletic Association announced its 1A and 2A state playoff brackets on Monday morning, all four local teams found their tickets punched to the Big Dance.
Mount Airy, which won a share of the Northwest 1A Conference title and lost just once in the regular season, already knew it would be in the 1A field. And Surry Central, which is a perennial entry out of the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference, could rest comfortably even though it had a bit of a slump in midseason. But North Surry and East Surry still had to wait and see how things shook out before they could be comfortable knowing they’d play more fútbol this fall.
As it turned out, the Greyhounds and the Cardinals didn’t need to worry. Both of them made it into their respective field, although they will both be on the road to open play on Wednesday night.
East Surry, which made the 1A tournament as the 19th seed after finishing third in the NW1A, has one of the best comeback stories in the state after not only missing the playoffs last year, but also suffering through a winless season with just one tie as their only non-loss. Although this year’s Cardinals had to deal with powerhouse teams at both Bishop McGuinness and Mount Airy, East won five matches and a draw this season, and returned to the state playoffs.
East Surry’s Cardinals will face Union Academy (8-9) on Wednesday night in Monroe. The teams are fairly well-matched according to MaxPreps, and the only sure thing is that the Cardinals will win — Union Academy shares that nickname. They are the fourth-place team in the PAC-7 Conference that also features two powerhouse teams in Pine Lake Prep and Community School of Davidson.
The two teams have no common opponents, but Union’s offense is heavily dependent on senior forward Jim Cail, who scored 25 of his team’s 45 goals this season. Fellow senior forward Jacob Wheeler, who has found the back of the net seven times, is the only other UA player with more than three. Tom Dechant and Chris Hunter are the team’s co-leaders in assists, with nine each, and junior Luke Mullen (80 saves, 2.42 GAA) does most of the work in goal.
A time for this match had not been announced as of press time.
North Surry makes its second straight appearance in the 2A playoffs, this time as a 28th seed. The Greyhounds (8-11) travel to fifth-seeded East Henderson (17-2-1) on Wednesday night at 6. The Eagles ran the table in the 2A Mountain Six Conference at 10-0 and have no common opponents with North Surry.
No stats for East Henderson are available, but the Eagles are a veteran team, with 14 of the 22 players on the roster being upperclassmen. They have won 13 straight matches since a 1-1 draw with county rival North Henderson on Sept. 15. The team’s losses came in the first and third matches of the season, at Tuscola (4-3) and West Henderson (2-1), both of which are 3A teams.
The match is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in East Flat Rock.
Surry Central drew the 14th seed in the 2A West after a 14-5 regular season that included a second-place finish in the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference. The Golden Eagles started their season 7-1, but then hit a rough patch after losing to Forbush in a shootout on Sept. 20. Central dropped matches to Mount Airy, Forbush and Atkins, but closed with three straight shutouts.
The Eagles will open at home against Fred T. Foard (12-7-4), the 19th seed, on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Tigers qualified for the playoffs after finishing third in the Northwest Foothills Conference with a mark of 7-4-1. Foard and Central have both played West Iredell and Hibriten, with similar results. The Eagles lost 3-2 against West Iredell and beat Hibriten 2-1, both in the first week of the season. Those teams are conference rivals of the Tigers, who split with West Iredell (1-0 win, 2-1 loss) and went 1-0-1 against Hibriten (2-1, 0-0).
If the Eagles can beat Foard, their likely second-round foe is arch-rival Forbush, the third seed in the tournament with a record of 20-1.
Mount Airy’s soccer team may be the best 12th seed in the history of the state playoffs, having received that spot in the bracket after a 19-1-1 season in which the Granite Bears were ranked as high as No. 2 in the 1A rankings at one point. A tie with fellow once-beaten Starmount and a 4-2 loss to Bishop McGuinness spoiled the perfect season in the same week.
Still, Mount Airy is the state’s fifth-ranked team and hosts its playoff opener against Alleghany (6-10-2) on Wednesday. This should be an easy game to prepare for, as two of the 19 Bear wins and 10 Trojan losses came on Aug. 29, when Mount Airy won 8-0, and Sept. 21, when the Bears prevailed 3-0. Alleghany finished fifth in the Mountain Valley Conference and earned a spot as the 21st seed.
Things will get more challenging after that. If the Bears get past the Trojans, they will travel to Lincoln Charter for the second round on Saturday. LCA (13-5) is the state’s 11th-ranked team and won the Southern Piedmont 1A title. A win there would likely mean a road match with Gray Stone Day, 18-1-1 and 12th in the state.
The Bears would only meet Bishop again if both teams reach the West Regional final. The Villains were rewarded for winning last Thursday’s shootout tiebreaker with the No. 2 seed in the regional, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage against any opponent but Pine Lake Prep.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.