One by one they came forward, still stunned that they had to accept medals they didn’t want. No one spoke.
And senior captain Natalie Chalker was there, waiting just before the awards table to look into the faces of her teary-eyed teammates and greet each one of them for a final time.
“As a leader on the team, that’s your job is to support; win or lose, you’re there for every player on the team - whether they played for 10 minutes or the entire time,” Chalker said. “We’re a team, and we win and lose as a team. And as a leader, you’ve got to be there for them.”
Some shook her hand. Others embraced her. Every Green Hope player – many of whom had fallen to N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field in resignation at the sound of the final buzzer – had a different way to deal with the heartbreak of watching perfection being snatched from their grasp, but their expressions were all the same.
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The Falcons had just fallen 2-1 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls soccer state championship game to Charlotte Hough. The No. 2 team in the nation had toppled No. 1 with two goals in the game’s final 12 minutes.
“They can look back and realize that the moments they were in (the game), they can look back and say they gave it everything they had,” said Green Hope Bobby Peterson. “No qualms. Obviously we’d like different results. We’d like for our touch to have been a little more calm, and like for us to do what we ordinarily would do.”
Green Hope had won 25 straight games entering the showdown, the fourth-longest winning streak in NCHSAA history. Losing hadn’t been something they had to deal with in 2012. But making it even harder to deal with the loss was what had happened leading up to Hough’s two counterattack goals.
The Falcons had dominated the game for long stretches. In the first half alone, Green Hope outshot Hough 13-5 and had the edge in corner kicks 4-1. Much of that happened again in the second half, right up to the moment when Alexis Shaffer, the N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year, drew and converted a penalty kick to take a 1-0 lead in the 58th minute.
“She wanted me to go to the left because there was an opening there, but I stick to the same side, so I went right still and just slotted it in,” Shaffer, a junior, said.
But then the Huskies began to find themselves.
The Falcons kept their form, which, by nature, keeps them pushing forward. But as in the first half, a finishing touch just wasn’t there.
“All season we’ve been able to control and then finish,” Peterson said. “And today we just weren’t able to do that last cap. For whatever reason, we weren’t able to stick it home.”
Hough (26-0-1) found a weakness late in the game, and took advantage.
The equalizing goal by Sarah Moon came with 11:49 to go, when she took a counterattacking pass down the right flank and pushed it into the box before beating goalkeeper Lisa Armstrong to the left side. Green Hope pushed for a go-ahead goal, but instead Hough found another counter and played it to the left side, where Moon got past her marker and Armstrong had to come out to defend. Moon scored again with 4:26 left, which allowed Hough to drop back as many as nine players to defend the final Green Hope efforts.
“It just wasn’t in our favor. We had a couple of bad calls, a couple of mishits, the ball bounced across the line a few times and we just couldn’t get it done,” said Chalker, one of three senior starters and six on the team. “There are no regrets. Next year, I won’t be a part of the team but I’ll be here supporting them. They can do it. They can do it next year.”