As the final whistle blew and the Cary girls soccer players trudged somberly to the sideline one last time this season, Kelly Glendenning futilely attempted to wipe away tears.
It wasn’t easy. The senior forward couldn’t raise her hands to dab tears without being interrupted by yet another teammate embracing her with a heartfelt hug.
“Kelly is an amazing young girl and team leader,” said Cary coach Laura Kerrigan. “She’s a leader in everything she does.”
Cary’s 1-0 loss to Wakefield (13-10-1) Thursday night at Cooper Field hurt for now as the Imps exited the 4A state playoffs in the first round for the second straight year.
But Glendenning and three other seniors on the team, Nikki Hoff, Ellie Wu and Erin Hill, left behind a lasting memory of the turnaround of a once floundering program. The Imps finished the year 13-5-1 overall after placing second in the Tri-Nine Conference to national power Green Hope with a 12-4 league record.
“We only had three wins Kelly’s freshman year,” said Kerrigan, who was then a first-year coach. “Nobody, outside of our team, would have predicted we’d finish second in the Tri-Nine. We had a fantastic season. I was proud of my team. The game could have gone either way.”
Cary had goal opportunities, but Wakefield’s N.C. State-bound goalie, Madison Shaw, wasn’t giving up anything cheap. She deftly saved the Imps’ best shots at the 5:07, 57:52 (a corner kick) and 67:25 marks.
The Wakefield-Cary match appeared destined for overtime and maybe penalty kicks before Wakefield freshman sensation Kat McDonald scored at the 69:18 mark on a breakaway situation.
“Coach Kerrigan has brought so much to our team,” Glendenning said. “This program will stay strong. We’re excited about the years to come.”
Glendenning said the loss was especially emotional for her because she realized it was her final soccer match. She will attend UNC-Chapel Hill as a broadcast journalism major with the goal of becoming a sideline reporter.
She also was recently named Teen Miss Princess North Carolina, so if she’s not the next Mia Hamm, maybe she’ll be the next Erin Andrews.
“Kelly is amazing young woman,” Kerrigan said. “She’s a great athlete and she’s ranked, I think, No. 12 in her class. She was spring queen in her class, Teen Miss Princess North Carolina and wants to continue and be Miss North Carolina. The girl does it all.”
Panther Creek (10-8-1) got its only goal on a long shot by Courtney Cash off a pass from Taylor Francis.
“I thought this was a really tough first-round draw for both teams,” Leesville coach Paul Dinkenor said. “Panther Creek is a very good team, from a really good conference. They had good players and played hard the whole game.
David Justice contributed to this story.