For the third straight season, the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference champion played for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls soccer championship.
Panther Creek, whose title appearance last year followed two trips by rival Green Hope, is counting on a workmanlike attitude to get back to this year’s state title game, where it fell short 1-0 in sudden death overtime against Hough High.
Panther Creek (23-1-1, 13-0-1): The Catamounts only graduated two starters from a year ago and have seven college-bound seniors.
Senior goalkeeper Celeste Barnard is one of the Triangle’s best. Defenders Rachael Everhart and Briana Velasquez shore up the back while forwards Emma Socha and Justine James lead a balanced scoring attack.
Reylen Alberti, Hollie Cartwright, Lindsey Haney and Brittany Matsinger give the team talent across the board.
Fuquay-Varina (11-6, 10-4): The Bengals’ best conference finish in years was spurred by a number of underclassmen who could put the heat on Panther Creek.
Sarah Casanave, Maura Coolbaugh, Rebekah Furr, Megan Greene, Kelly Suggs, Katie Cockerill and Mackenzie Ramage give Fuquay-Varina as strong of a nucleus as anyone in the league.
Holly Springs (14-5-2, 9-4-1): The Golden Hawks have senior forward Kirsten Bootes (23 goals, six assists), a UNC-Wilmington recruit who led the SWAC in goals last year.
Also back for coach Brian Miller are Rebekah Favero (seven goals, two assists), Abby Sanders (two goals, eight assists) and goalkeeper Nikki DeBardelaben, who missed most of last season with injury.
Athens Drive (10-10, 7-7): No team lost fewer players to graduation than the Jaguars, who have some good talent returning in senior Allie Chason (10 goals, six assists), Erika Snyder, Rachel Snyder and Natalie Van Genderen.
Green Hope (8-10-2, 6-7-1): New coach Stacy Lamb, the team’s third in as many seasons, will rely on Addie Galloway, Brandi Mosser, Bailey Petersen and Kaylin Lang.
Middle Creek (5-10-3, 3-9-2): The Mustangs return 15 players, which doesn’t include Delaney Borror, a transfer from Florida, or Cassie Sullivan, a goalkeeper who was injured all of last year. Defenders Sarah Hedgecock and Hailey Meyer lead the back line.
Apex (3-12-2, 3-11): Apex returns seven starters, including two seniors defenders – Caley Dunn and Carla Thomas.
Cary (4-13-1, 2-11-1): Senior Kyra Kandel was an all-conference selection last year for the Imps, who defeated Apex and Green Hope in the same season.