With 11 freshmen and five sophomores on the roster, Mount Airy knew there might be some rough spots to weather through during the Lady Bears’ 2018 soccer season.
The worst fears seemed to be realized when the team lost four matches in five tries during a mid-season stretch, but then Mount Airy followed that up with a three-game winning streak. Every win was important during a season in which Bishop McGuinness and South Stokes were among the top 1A teams in the state and the Northwest 1A Conference only had two guaranteed playoff berths. The young Lady Bears had to play their way into an at-large berth.
Ultimately, they not only got it done, but even earned a first-round home playoff game. Mount Airy beat Swain County 8-1 in the first round at Wallace Shelton Stadium, and was putting up a good fight against Southern Piedmont 1A champion Lincoln Charter in a second-round road game when rain ended the Lady Bears’ season with 28 minutes on the clock and the Eagles leading 3-1.
Lincoln Charter went on to reach the 1A West Regional final. For most of the Lady Bears, the future is still to be written. But the present wasn’t too bad, either. Five members of the team were named All-Northwest Conference this season, and two more were honorable mentions.
Only one of the five was a senior, that being Kora Ledezma, who mostly played in the midfield this season, but was often deployed by head coach Will Hurley wherever she was needed, having shown the ability to play most anywhere on the field during her career. She played in 20 of the team’s 21 matches and had three goals and two assists. She had 103 steals and was often seen defending one of the other team’s best players.
Joining her on the All-Conference Team were sophomore Olivia Malone and Samantha Stewart and juniors Baylee Greenwood and Cheyenne Allen.
Allen played almost exclusively on defense during the 2018 season and led the team with 318 steals, and was also credited with four saves on plays where she stopped an opposing shot while defending the goal. Her classmate Greenwood needs no introduction, being the all-time leading scorer in MAHS soccer history, male or female. Her goal output dropped from 66 to 31 this season, as the Lady Bears faced an arguably tougher schedule with a less experienced team, but the 5’5” forward/striker/defender played all over the field and also made 162 steals, and was an easy choice for her third All-Conference citation in as many seasons.
Malone, a sophomore, was the team’s second-leading scorer with 11 goals, and she played one of her best games of the season in the playoff win over Swain, with a hat trick and an assist in the match. Stewart was the team’s primary goalkeeper during the year, playing 1420 of 1545 minutes in net for the Lady Bears. She made 254 saves and played a part in all or part of all eight shutouts that Mount Airy posted during the 2018 season. After the team’s bad stretch of four losses in five matches, Stewart posted three straight whitewashes against East Surry, Galax and North Stokes in a four-day stretch to get the team back into playoff contention.
Senior Jo Snow, undoubtedly the best future Wingate University women’s basketball player to play NW1A soccer this season, was joined by freshman Gizelle Perez as honorable mention selections.
Snow, who returned to soccer for her senior year after not playing since middle school, joined the team five matches in, after leading the basketball Lady Bears to a second straight state championship. She was third on the team with seven goals scored, making a strong impact on the team in spite of her long layoff from the sport. Perez, a defender and midfielder, had 143 steals and played an increased role as the season moved along. She played an outstanding match in a 3-2 overtime loss to South Stokes, making 18 steals, and hit double digits in that category in four of her last five matches of the season.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.