Panther Creek was tantalizingly close to winning it all last season with only two senior starters.
The Catamounts fell in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4A girls’ soccer championship 1-0 in sudden death overtime against Cornelius’ Hough High.
Panther Creek (23-1-1) was the third consecutive Southwest Wake Athletic Conference team to play in the title match and to do so undefeated.
Coach David Grant is counting on a workmanlike attitude from his team, which loses three starters from a year ago, to get back to this year’s championship.
Senior goalkeeper Celeste Barnard (Middle Tennessee State) is one of the Triangle’s best, and she leads six college-bound seniors.
Defenders Rachael Everhart (Charlotte) and Briana Velasquez (Marshall) shore up the back while forwards Emma Socha (Charlotte) and Justine James (UNC Asheville) lead a balanced scoring attack.
Reylen Alberti (Lenoir-Rhyne), Hollie Cartwright, Lindsey Haney and Brittany Matsinger give the team talent across the board.
Other teams to watch
Athens Drive (10-10): The Jaguars have some good talent returning: senior Allie Chason (UNC Asheville, 10 goals, six assists), Erika Snyder, Rachel Snyder (UNC Asheville) and Natalie Van Genderen.
Chapel Hill (23-1): The Tigers raced through the NCHSAA 3A playoffs to claim the 2014 title, topping Weddington 2-1 in the finals. Jason Curtis is the new coach after being an assistant the past 15 years. Four starters return, including four-year veteran Mia Spencer and three-year starters Lianna Malawski and Morgan Brandewie.
Cardinal Gibbons (21-2-2): The Crusaders’ only losses were to Chapel Hill, 1-0 during the regular season and 2-1 in the third round of the playoffs. Gibbons handed the Tigers their only loss of the season 1-0. All-state defender Megan Goudy is back, as is Charlotte recruit Angela Hiltbrunner and Zoe Crabtree.
Carrboro (17-5): The Jaguars made it to the 2A fourth round and bring back four players with 10 or more goals– sophomore Kiara Hallows, senior Leah Simon, Katie Knotek and Kenza Araba.
Cary Academy (14-3-1): NCISAA 3A runner-up returns two all-state players – junior Abby Staker and sophomore Remi Swartz.
Durham Academy (12-2-1): The Cavaliers’ only regular-season loss was to Cary Academy. Junior Lakin Barry and sophomore Jaya Prentis are back from the all-region team.
East Chapel Hill (14-5): Elon recruit Emma Daum (16 goals) and Eva Killenberg (15 goals) are among the top returners to a Wildcats team that made it to the fourth round.
Fuquay-Varina (11-6): The Bengals’ best conference finish in years was spurred by a number of underclassmen. Sarah Casanave, Maura Coolbaugh, Rebekah Furr, Megan Greene, Kelly Suggs, Katie Cockerill and Mackenzie Ramage give Fuquay-Varina a strong nucleus.
Heritage (11-10-3): The Huskies bring back two all-region picks – senior Naara Mendez and junior Micaela Strickland.
Holly Springs (14-5-2): The Hawks have eight returning starters including senior forward Kirsten Bootes (23 goals, six assists), a UNC Wilmington recruit. Also back for coach Brian Miller are Abby Sanders (Campbell recruit) and sophomore defenders Ellis Fitzhugh, Kelli Hayes and Alyssa Poth.
Jordan (12-5): The Falcons won the PAC-6 crown but graduated many players. Sophomore defender Abigail Masten and senior midfielder Stephanie Quintanilla were all-region picks.
Leesville Road (14-4-2): Five starters return, but two were all-Cap Eight – junior midfielder Madison Hoffman, an all-state selection, and senior defender Megan Purich. The play of midfielder Jordan Marino could be critical.
Millbrook (14-7-1): Appalachian State defender recruit Alexa Asher is one of four returning starters. Keeper Delia LoSapio will play at Lynchburg. Sophomores Lauren Griffiths and Brianna Morris started every game for 14-7-1 club. Claire Griffiths had 13 goals and 13 assists.
Princeton (13-3-1): Bulldogs were the top seed in 1A but were upset in the second round of the playoffs. Senior Jessica Brush (21 goals, 19 assists), junior Chelsea Hawley (20 goals) and Kassandra Bautista Velasquez (19 goals, 11 assists) are all back.
Sanderson (15-6-2): Spartans advanced to the fourth round before falling to Wilmington Hoggard.
St. David’s (16-1-1): St. David’s, which was undefeated during the regular season, lost to Asheville Christian 2-1 in the second round of the NCISAA playoffs. Sophomores Sarah Reynolds and Patterson Sheehan were NCISAA 2A all-state picks.
Wakefield (12-5-1): The Wolverines are led by all-South pick Kat McDonald (22 goals, 12 assists), a Duke recruit. Sophomores Christina McCartney (12 assists) and Morgan Nanni (12 goals) will be relied on as well.
West Johnston (21-2-2): The Wildcats reached the third round of the playoffs before losing to eventual finalist Panther Creek 3-0. Senior Mallory Barton had 29 goals while sophomore Robin Pollard had 23.
Other players to watch
Yesenia Ascencio, Sr., Bunn: Had 28 goals, 14 assists for Wildcats.
Delaney Borror, Sr., Middle Creek: Transfer from Florida played in three state championships.
Nicole Crutchfield, Sr., Northern Durham: North Carolina recruit scored 40 goals and was PAC-6 player of the year.
Morgan Goff, Jr., Triton: North Carolina recruit scored 52 goals in 2014 and had 12 assists.
Amelia Huffman, Sr., Franklin Academy: 1A all-state goalkeeper had 176 saves.
Bella Iorio, Sr., Corinth Holders: UNC Asheville recruit had 10 goals, 14 assists for the Pirates (9-6).
Kyra Kandel, Sr., Cary: UNC Asheville recruit.
Makenna Lagaly, Soph. Cary Christian: NCISAA 2A all-state pick for the Knights.
Jamie Palermo, Sr., Northwood: Appalachian State recruit helped Chargers to 14-7 mark.
Isabel Pearce, Soph. Woods Charter: 1A all-state forward scored 45 goals with 17 assists.
Rachel Shinnick, Sr., Orange: Wofford recruit led the Panthers (7-13).
Samantha Stec, Sr., Granville Central: Defender had 24 goals for 9-5-2 Panthers.
Kiera Stephan, Soph. Raleigh Charter: Led Phoenix (15-6) with 32 goals.
Morgan Townsend, Sr., North Johnston: The sweeper was an all-region pick.
Emily Truelove, Sr., Cleveland: Charlotte recruit (35 goals, 19 assists) led Two Rivers 3A champs.
Emma Willard, Jr. Broughton: Top scorer for 8-9-1 Capitals.