There was more than just a “good try” takeaway for the Knightdale girls soccer team after its season ended in a 6-1 loss at Conley High in the opening round of the NCHSAA 4A playoffs last Wednesday.
While the end result was one commonly expected in games between a No. 1 seed and No. 32 seed, how they got to the final score was less common.
The season-long trend suggested the undefeated and top-seeded Vikings would have their way from the onset of the game with the Knights. Conley had given up just five goals all season and shut out 11 of its opponents.
For 54 minutes against Knightdale, however, the Vikes didn’t have their way. Several blistering shots sailed high. Numerous looks were cut short by Knights keeper Tori Leech. The Knights constantly seemed to find a way to turn back a quality ball sent forward from the Conley midfield.
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Knightdale, which saw its season end with a 7-11 mark, even scored first in the game as sophomore Taylor Ward cleaned up the aftermath of a corner kick in the 23rd minute. The Knights held the lead and outright momentum for the next eight minutes, until Conley’s Shelby Jones found herself in a one-on-one with Leech and produced the goal that would send the game to halftime in a tie.
Conley coach Shannon McLaughlin said her team has a habit of finishing better than it starts.
“I felt like we started a little slow, we weren’t on our game the first half,” McLaughlin said. “In playoffs, that is definitely scary. If you do that against real tough teams, you can’t always come back.”
That it appeared to be anyone’s game with 26 minutes to play was significant for a young Knightdale team that will lose only two seniors, Morgan Wiggs and Stephanie Lino-Perez, to graduation this spring.
“Our future looks really good because our team’s grown stronger,” said Knights coach Madison Shope. “We just need to make sure we have more incoming players and we’ll be a strong team next year because we have a lot of returning players.
“I think our first-half game was great. I think the second half game, there were a few unfortunate calls and the other team just ran with it.”
When it happened, it happened quickly.
Conley’s Analee Reed took a feed from the right end and snuck the ball past Leech into the right corner in the 55th minute. Morgan Sandy then scored on a penalty kick in the 62nd minute after Knightdale committed a foul in the box and she scored again for the 4-1 lead two minutes later, cleaning up a loose ball during a traffic jam right in front of the Knights’ goal.
Bria Robbins caught Leech off her mark and scored off keeper’s fingertips, in the 74th. Robbins capped the scoring two minutes later after a collision in the Knightdale backfield gave her a clear shot.
The Vikings outshot the Knights 12-5 for the game. Leech had a .500 day in goal, recording six saves in the loss.
“I think (the Knights) have a lot of potential next year, especially being a young team,” McLaughlin said. “I think we’ll see them next year going a little bit further into the playoffs.”
At the beginning of the season Shope said she wanted to get the program back into conference championship form. A tie for fourth place in the Greater Neuse River 4A may have been a step in that direction. It at least gave Knightdale a wildcard ticket into the playoffs, marking the eighth consecutive year the program has reached the postseason.
“I think our goals changed throughout the season, depending on the mood of the team,” Shope said. “The goal toward halfway and toward the end of the season was just to play as a team and have fun, and they did that.”