CARY — The only real change in the Green Hope girls’ soccer team from last year is in its reaction. After winning the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A East regional final with a 3-1 win against visiting New Bern on Tuesday night, the celebration wasn’t as fervent compared to a year ago.
The expectations are the same – to win a 4A state championship – and almost all of the players came back for this season. Again, the Falcons have an unbeaten and untied record and No. 1 overall ranking heading into the state championship game.
But the Falcons have had to adjust in going from hunter to hunted, and part of that process includes not getting wound up before Saturday’s state championship rematch against Cornelius Hough.
“Last year it was a totally new experience... to win the East final was a really big deal,” defender Sydney Curtis said. “I don’t want to say this year was expected, it was a high goal for us. We still love it, but we have the state championship as our ultimate goal.”
In last year’s 4A state championship, the Falcons were leading 1-0 with 12 minutes to play, but Hough scored twice in a four-minute span to win 2-1. The heartbreaking defeat has changed the attitude of this year’s group.
But that whole season was uncharted waters for the program, which had yet to take the torch as the best team in the Triangle or make it past the fourth round. The Falcons think they now have a better understanding of what it means to be a state champion.
“It’s not that it’s a different approach really, just a stronger will to win,” senior Alexis Degler said. “You just don’t want that feeling of losing anymore.”
New Bern (14-7-1) entered the game on a Cinderella run, taking out the two teams it finished behind in the Mideastern Conference.
Green Hope (27-0-0) did much to decide the game early, forcing five corners in the game’s first seven minutes.
With an 8th-minute score by Kenley Sigmon and another from Alexis Shaffer in the 19th, Green Hope held the Bears with just one shot for most of the first half.
New Bern’s second and third shots helped it score in the 29th minute, as a long shot that hit the left post opened up Green Hope for a rebounded goal by Shannon Fagan.
The Falcons doubled their lead with Maura McDonnell’s 37th-minute goal, and controlled the game from there.
“I know how last year in the state championship we went down and our team did not know how to react,” said Shaffer, who earlier in the day was notified she earned her second N.C. Gatorade player of the year award. “I think this year, with the two games we had to fight, we really know we earned it. We made it here. We’re ready to go out on top.”
Green Hope will play Hough at 5 p.m. at Dail Soccer Field on the campus of N.C. State, the same venue as last year’s game.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps