Reaching the state championship game was truly a junior achievement for the North Raleigh Christian Academy boys soccer team.
The Knights (17-3) started nine juniors in a 2-0 semifinal victory at home on Tuesday over Charlotte Country Day that sent coach Ed Pinon’s team to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A title game.
NRCA will face Wesleyan Christian Academy of High Point – on the Trojans’ home field – on Saturday for the 3A title.
“It’s great,” Pinon said. “This is a great group of guys. I knew from the beginning that if we came together as a team that we would have a good shot at winning this thing, and here we are. We’ve put ourselves in a position to win it.”
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NRCA doesn’t have a senior on its roster, and Pinon spent most of the season trying to build his team’s confidence. Only within the last month have the Knights realized they could contend for a state championship.
“Early on, I’m trying to pump in belief and confidence and get them to see that we can do this,” Pinon said. “Everybody’s like, ‘OK, coach is just trying to get us to feel good about ourselves.’ But I don’t know that we realized we could do this until we started to come along as a team and make things happen.”
Daniel Brackett dribbled past two defenders and rifled a left-footed shot past Buccaneers keeper Connor McPhilliamy for a 1-0 NRCA lead in the 34th minute. Four minutes later. William Welch found himself on a breakaway after a CCD defender fell, and Welch easily beat McPhilliamy for a 2-0 lead.
THREE TO KNOW
William Welch, NRCA: One of two captains, Welch played well in the middle of the Knights’ front line. He had several good scoring chances and also made an assist on an apparent goal that was called off because the Knights were off-sides.
Seth Wolins, NRCA: Wolins made several easy saves, but he stopped a Walker Gillespie shot with a leaping, one-handed save in the 37th minute that preserved a 1-0 lead.
Justin Armel, NRCA: An attacking midfielder, Armel helped the Knights control possession and continually move forward.
NRCA has a deep team, especially at midfield. In addition to Armel and starters Brackett and Blake Robling, the Knights don’t fall off when Alex Lang, Nathan Hirscher and Michael Ferguson come in the game.
“We’ve had a bench that has really contributed,” Pinon said. “That’s really a key to successful teams. We’re not dependent on one guy, but it’s all of us playing together.”
The Knights won the state title in 2013 and reached the final in 2007 before losing. Game time is 3 p.m. Saturday.