As one of the better teams in the Greater Neuse River Conference in recent years and a perennial state playoff participant, the start to this season has been rather uncharacteristic for Knightdale’s girls soccer team.
Fresh off a 14-7-2 campaign a year ago – one in which the Knights advanced to the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs – and with a large number of seniors manning starting roles, most observers would have expected success at least approaching last year’s.
Instead, Knightdale opened with three straight losses as part of an 0-5-2 start. The Knights are starting to settle in and sit at 4-7-2 overall and 4-2-2 in the GNRC.
“I’m not going to lie, it was a little scary, because I was so used to being on a successful team,” said senior Tori Thompson, a fourth-year varsity player. “The start was different than any other, and to get through that was hard.”
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Head coach Aaron Steele thought there was the possibility of a slow start. The combination of graduation losses and the absence of a playmaker from the freshman class coming up to join the team left him asking several players to handle roles they may not have been accustomed to.
“The expectation (of success) doesn’t change, but I think the realism was, when we start game-planning, we are going to have to take some risks, get girls more versatile,” Steele said. “Basically, win ugly or do anything to win. ... They understand we got off to a rough start because a lot of girls were uncomfortable with that. Then they started to understand things the last few games.”
Steele felt things started to turn around after a 3-2 overtime loss to Rolesville on March 16. Following that game, Knightdale put up a good fight in a 1-0 loss at GNRC co-leader Clayton on March 20 before winning comfortably against Southeast Raleigh on March 22.
He couldn’t say enough about the contributions of his senior captains Thompson, Taylor Ward, Leah McCray, Morgan Edmonds and Elizabeth James in getting through the rough times earlier in the season.
“They all offer up something different with what we need from a leadership standpoint,” Steele said. “They have all stuck together and have stepped up when we’ve needed them.”