By Caryn Grant
RALEIGH -- Attacking early got Cardinal Gibbons to the state championship, and the Crusaders stuck to that game plan Saturday, netting two goals in the first 11 minutes of play to go on to defeat Hickory St. Stephens 3-0 in the NCHSAA 3A girls soccer championship.
The win was the second NCHSAA title for the Crusaders, but the first at the 3A level. Cardinal Gibbons won the 2A title in 2007 before moving up in classification.
"We had our sights on it all season," said Cardinal Gibbons coach Michele Miller. "It's something we talked about. We expected to be here and we were hoping that we had enough this year to actually get the win."
Cardinal Gibbons (22-2-1) got on the board early when junior all-American Morgan Reid, who has verbally committed to Duke, fired a long ball over St. Stephens goalkeeper Taylor Logans head in the third minute.
"Our motto's kind of come out hard and try to stop them in the first half and take all of their momentum," Reid said. "If we have a good offense, it makes a good defense because it's not going to be on our side of the field, so that was kind of what our idea was. We have a lot of very quick forwards, so if we get it up to them quickly, you know good things are going to happen, and today they did."
Senior Christina Gibbons, who has signed to play at Duke next year, scored again for the Crusaders in the 11th minute, and Cardinal Gibbons took a 2-0 lead into the break.
The quick start put St. Stephens, which hadn't allowed a goal in the playoffs, in unfamiliar territory.
"We don't have two kids going to Duke, but we've got a lot kids from a small town that work hard from a small club organization and I'm proud of them for what they did today and for getting all the way here," said St. Stephens coach Chuck Davis. "We had beaten (Charlotte) Catholic and we were so proud of that and we thought 'Well, we can do it again,' but that first half they just got us on our heels and we never were able to recover and get any kind of rhythm going."
The Crusaders' speed gave St. Stephens (21-4-2) trouble and Cardinal Gibbons was able to control the ball throughout the game, taking twice as many shots as the Indians.
After setting up two near-goals in the second half, Christina Gibbons booted in her second goal of the day, to give the Crusaders a 3-0 cushion with 20 minutes to play.
Gibbons was named state championship MVP.
"It's unbelievable. I'm so proud of this team. We've overcome a lot of obstacles this season and I think we really came together at the right time," Gibbons said. "I really wanted it this year, coming off as a senior to be able to end on this note is something not many people are able to do it, so it's a really good feeling. I know exactly how they feel being on the other side of it two years ago, it's not a good feeling at all, so this is definitely a big deal to me."
Cardinal Gibbons lost in the 3A state championship game in 2010 and 2011.
With senior goalkeeper Kristin Twomey in goal, the Crusaders recorded their 18th shutout of the season.
The senior leadership of Gibbons, Twomey and midfielders Leigh McGill, Stephany Michalak and Kathleen Hickey was the key to the team's success, Miller said.
"Our seniors led the way and then everyone just followed," she said.