Garner’s girls soccer team enters the final week of the regular season in a very promising situation. The Trojans’ task is simple: win out and celebrate a championship.
A 2-0 Friday afternoon win over Knightdale left Garner with a 10-5-1 overall mark and 10-1-1 in Greater Neuse River 4A Conference play. It was likely the Trojans’ largest remaining hurdle to winning the league title.
By winning out, Garner, although it may share the league championship with West Johnston (if both teams finish 12-1-1), wraps up the conference’s No. 1 playoff seeding. Garner went 1-0-1 against West during the season.
Now, the Trojans have matches against Southeast Raleigh and Rolesville between them and a championship trophy.
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“It’s just like every other day when you come out,” said Garner coach Joe Dennis of his team’s approach to the historic week. “You have to go out and do the same things you’ve done all season that have brought you success.
“We’ve got two matches that we should win but we still have to go out and do it. We’ll defend with great effort and attack when we have the ball. We just have to keep that focus like any other match.”
Getting to that point wasn’t simple, thanks to a great effort from Knightdale in what was a typical physical battle with the Trojans. The match was scoreless for 63 minutes with neither team putting up much of an offensive attack.
“We played 70-plus very good minutes so giving up the late goals is deflating,” Knightdale coach Collin Dalton said. “It’s a credit to Garner for sticking to it and being aggressive. It’s what they’ve done all year.”
The Knights’ experience on Friday was one that most Trojan opponents have felt this season: that sense of being close, just short.
Garner has scored the fewest goals this season of the top four teams in the GNRC with 37.
“That’s been the story of our year,” Dennis said. “I thought we would be a much more offensive team coming in that we’ve turned out to be. We’ve created a lot of chances but they haven’t turned into a lot of goals.”
But the Trojan defense has been there to make sure small leads on the scoreboard stick. Garner has given up just five goals in 12 conference matches with senior Elizabeth Pittman in goal and a defense featuring seniors Samantha Mitchell, Sarah Hamlin and Bailey Roque and sophomores Sarah Dancausse and Mikayla Marsich spending most of the time along the back line.
Garner’s goals in Friday’s game came with 17:10 to play when a loose ball popped free to Michaela Wycoff in the middle of the field. She blasted the ball into the upper left corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Fifteen minutes later, UNC Wilmington recruit Bayleigh Adams scored on a pass from Taylor Cooke to give Garner its final margin and end Knightdale’s hopes of a third place finish in the league.
The Knights (8-8, 7-5 entering this week) will likely qualify for a playoff spot with two wins this week.
Knightdale goalie Tori Leech made two diving saves – one in each half – to keep Garner off of the board for a long time. Leech one-handed a follow up shot 10 minutes in when Cooke tried to clean up an attempt by Adams that bounced off the goalpost.
Leech made a similar save when another Trojan shot hit the post five minutes into the second half.
“Our focus is to go two-for-two next week and see what happens with the playoffs,” Dalton said.