Kim Kern has helped Leesville Road to 21 shutouts in 25 girls soccer games this season.
But her biggest game is yet to come.
Leesville plays Charlotte Ardrey Kell for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A championship tonight at 7 at N.C. State's Paul Derr Track Stadium, which is behind Reynolds Coliseum.
The excitement was palpable at Leesville on Thursday, Kern said. Teachers have asked about the game. Posters in the hall exhort the Pride. Students come up to players offering encouragement.
It is pretty heady stuff, even for someone like Kern, who has won club state championships before.
She is a member of the 89 CASL Elite club team that won its state age group title last fall.
This is different.
"It is almost like we're expected to win in club," she said. "You've got a much less chance with your high school team because there are so many more teams."
It is also different because of the attention.
"In club, it is the players, the parents and the coaches," she said. "But with this, we have a whole community behind us.
"The baseball team lost Wednesday, but they say they are coming to support us on Friday. People are talking about the game in the halls."
Leesville coach Paul Dinkenor has coached two boys teams to NCHSAA titles and knows it is easy to get caught up in a state championship game.
"You want to play at your very best, but you don't want to get uptight about it," he said.
Dinkenor said the team has responded well all season. The Pride (23-2) took an emotional 1-0 semifinal win over Broughton on Wednesday, enjoyed it and began preparations for the final.
Dinkenor said Kern is the best girls keeper he has coached, but not just for her saves.
"She didn't have any spectacular saves against Broughton, but she didn't have to," he said. "She played great. Every ball she touched stuck to her hands. There were no rebounds bouncing around."
Kern said she was taught that the goal of a keeper is to prevent shots, not just stop them. "I think my biggest strength is organizing the defense," she said. "The keeper sees the whole field and keeps the defense in position."
She credits sweeper Megan O'Boyle and defenders Emily Burchette and Claudel Pilon for much of her success. "They play awesome defense," Kern said.
But so does Kell (18-2-2), which defeated North Mecklenburg 1-0 in the semifinals. Kell has outscored its opposition 17-0 in the playoffs.
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