The Green Hope girls soccer team was assembled with the express purpose of winning the 4A state championship.
Led by the core players from a national championship club team, Green Hope entered the season with high ambitions and are one win away from an undefeated, championship season.
Five girls who attend Green Hope played on the Capital Area Soccer League Chelsea 16U club team that won the 16U Elite Club National League tournament in Aurora, Colo., last July. Alexis Degler, Cameron Sigmon, Maya Worth, Alexis Shaffer and Sydney Curtis decided they’d either all play for the school team this spring with the goal of winning the N.C. High School Athletic Association title or they all would spend the spring training.
They decided to play.
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On Saturday they will play for the state championship and possible No. 1 national rankings in the ESPNHS Powerade Fab 50 poll and in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll. The Falcons currently are No. 1 in both.
Green Hope’s opponent at 11 a.m. at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Stadium will be Hough High (pronounced Huff) of Cornelius, ranked No. 2 in the ESPNHS poll and No. 19 in the coaches poll.
Sheldon Shealer, who does the ranking for ESPNHS, said Green Hope has all the credentials of a top-ranked team.
“It is an established program that has been consistently good,” Shealer said. “The players have proven themselves not only in high school competition, but in club play. You look at the teams Green Hope has beaten. Teams like Leesville (No. 26 in the poll) and Millbrook (No. 41) and they completely handled Broughton..
“Green Hope has been making soccer look like a one-sided sport.”
Shealer says Green Hope is the favorite in the North Carolina finals, but he noted that Hough has been ranked No. 2 in the state all season and has been a top 20 national team throughout the season.
“Hough is outstanding,” he said. “When I first started working on the spring season, I had Hough as North Carolina’s best team, but then I talked to Coach (Bobby) Peterson at Green Hope and found out what he had coming back.”
Green Hope has outscored its opposition 124-9 this season with Shaffer and Degler accounting for 64 of the goals.
Peterson said his club has been able to focus on the next game throughout the season while keeping the overall goal of winning a state title in mind.
“We’ve got a great group of seniors and if we ever get off track, they’ve been (able) to get us on the right path,” Pederson said.
Senior Cydney Smith starts at center back and is a team captain and senior Natalie Chalker is the center midfielder. The other four seniors, Caitlin Messina, Olivia Meek, Sydney Durand and Grace Hamashima, start some games and play as much as anyone.
“One key to our season has been the seniors’ determination after losing (3-1) to Leesville Road in overtime last year,” Pederson said referring to a playoff loss to the eventual state 4A champions.
Hough presents offensive and defensive problems. The Huskies’ forwards like to move forward quickly and keeper Marnie Merritt is one of the best players in the country – two countries, actually. She is on the U.S. U-15 national team and on the U17 Canadian youth national team.
The key offensively against Merritt is getting good shots.
“She is going to stop all of the weak shots,” Peterson said of Merritt. There is no need to tap the ball at the goal,” Peterson said. “We don’t want to be hesitant on taking shots, but if it is not a good shot, we might need to pull it out and work for a better one.”
Hamashima said she is confident the Falcons will stay focused.
“We’re a team,” she said. “We’ve got some girls who play at a very high level, but we are a team. We have such great chemistry off the field that it carries over onto the field.”