Alexandra Kimball almost didn't play soccer this year for Chapel Hill High School.
Alex, or A.K., as she's known to many members of the Chapel Hill varsity, already was a two-time All-American and last year had booked a spot on the University of North Carolina's team for Fall 2014. Some people thought she should play it safe and eschew high school play her senior year.
Instead she opted to play.
Saturday, she and her teammates were rewarded with the 2014 N.C. High School Athletics Association's 3A championship. Chapel Hill beat Matthews Weddington 2-1 in the final.
"I had my doubts. I wasn't going to play high school soccer this year. Now, I'm so glad I did," Kimball said moments after collecting the championship game's MVP award.
Like all her teammates, Kimball felt an extra motivation to win because head coach Ron Benson was to retire at the end of this year, his 34th leading the program.
“For this team, this group of seniors, to send Benson off with a championship means so much,” Kimball said.
Kimball was Chapel Hill's top scorer this year, with 23 goals and 18 assists. She didn't get a goal Saturday, but assisted Mia Spencer on her second-half goal that tied the match at 1-1. It was Spencer's third straight playoff game with at least one goal.
"With Benson retiring, it felt really, really important to win," Spencer said, still a bit woozy after getting thumped on the head.
Saturday's game was more physical than most matches. Four Weddington players drew yellow cards in the second half for rough play. That proved to be a factor in Chapel Hill's comeback from a 1-0 halftime deficit.
With less pulling and tugging being allowed, the Tigers finally found some maneuvering room and scored twice in the game's last 27 minutes.
Megan Dell, the point of Chapel Hill's defense as a midfielder, came forward late and scored the game-winning goal off an assist from Sofie Nielsen with 93 second left.
Goalkeeper Madeline Mesaros continued her streak of excellent second halves and saved both of Weddington's last shots on-goal. She helped shut down a Weddington team that averaged 6.3 goals a game.
Benson said Chapel Hill simply had too much talent to be denied.
"We just have a lot of good players," he said. "We tell them to just go out and play your game. We always have faith in them.”
Benson downplayed his retirement from the moment it leaked out. But even he had to admit Saturday was memorable.
"This is just a special team,” he said.