As the minutes counted down on the girls soccer season for Goldsboro on Wednesday night, the Cougars tried to take advantage of free kick after free kick in an attempt to avoid the shutout and end the season on a better note.
The match had long been determined as Goldsboro lost 4-0 to Southwest Onslow in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A playoffs.
“Their speed of play just kept us chasing our tails,” Goldsboro coach Chad Lewis said of the Stallions. “They played a step faster than everyone on our team the whole night. That’s just credit to them being a very good squad.”
While Southwest Onslow thoroughly dominated possession, Goldsboro defended at will. The Stallions didn’t break through until Sydney Crow finished off a play in the goal mouth with an assist by Corianna King just inside the arc in the 31st minute. Two minutes, a shot from 30 yards out by Riley McCauley glanced off the hands of Goldsboro goalkeeper Selena Morales to put Southwest Onslow up 2-0.
Soon after allowing the second goal, Morales had a chance to restore some confidence, stopping a point-blank shot by King.
“I think that definitely helped her because, after that one went over and through, I was worried that the floodgates would open,” Lewis said.
Goldsboro trailed just 2-0 at intermission, but couldn’t muster as much as a shot until the 27th minute, when Hannah Williamson’s free kick from 25 yards away was headed out of danger by the Stallions.
“They were a phenomenal passing team,” Lewis said of the Stallions. “I don’t know if they missed a pass all night. They had us running in circles. We had to chase and chase and chase and their legs got wobbly. We got tired real quick in the first half just because we were chasing so much ... Our midfield was run to death in the first half.”
In the 52nd minute, Southwest Onslow’s Hope Kohl roofed a 30-yard free kick just inside the far post. She added another tally two minutes as her free kick from 50 yards away skidded along the ground and went through Morales’ legs to put the Stallions up 4-0.
Morales is a sophomore, has been working as a goalkeeper for just two years, and worked with Jorg Wagner – coach of the boys soccer team at archrival Eastern Wayne – at a recent practice. Lewis praised her athleticism and has noticed that her angles and positioning have improved dramatically.
“She saved some phenomenal goals this year,” Lewis said. “She’s so much better than she was just at the beginning of this season.”
Morales finished with 10 saves as Southwest Onslow enjoyed a 17-5 shot advantage and took six corner kicks to Goldsboro’s none.
But, while no team that ends the season with a loss celebrates following the match, the Cougars have more to celebrate than most.
Five years ago, there wasn’t a soccer program at the school. As recently as last season, players were divided, identifying themselves with either Goldsboro High or the Wayne School of Engineering that conducts classes on Goldsboro’s campus even though they wore the same uniforms and traveled to road matches on the same bus.
That’s no longer a concern.
Team chemistry improved as parochialism disappeared. The Cougars won 18 matches and did not drop one against a 2A side until the loss to the Stallions. Goldsboro’s only two losses of the regular season were to 3A Eastern Wayne twice and they finished with two draws against James Kenan and a third to North Johnston.
The Cougars earned the Eastern Carolina 2A Conference crown, its first league title in program history, with an 8-0 record while scoring 49 goals and allowing only two. Goldsboro then won its first two postseason matches in program history against Reidsville and Midway to reach the third round.
“I could not be more proud of them,” Lewis said. “They are a great group of girls. I love them to death and would do anything for any one of them on that team. ... They worked hard and they improved drastically over the season. At the beginning of the season, they could not have won those first two playoff games”
The improvement will need to continue next season as realignment will put Goldsboro in a conference with fellow Wayne County school Spring Creek as well as Clinton, Midway, East Duplin, James Kenan and Wallace-Rose Hill.
“That’s a solid soccer conference right there,” Lewis said
Lewis knows that sides like Southwest Onslow have skill and talent in all 11 positions on the pitch and more waiting to come off the bench, and he knows Goldsboro has some talent, but has to fill in gaps with athleticism.
The schools in Onslow County are chock full of players who play the sport year-round. That’s the next step for Goldsboro’s program – as simple as it sounds, play more soccer. Lewis is looking for more offseason opportunities to work with young players within the NCHSAA guidelines, but also knows they have to want to improve on their own through individual work.
“I would say just about all of that team (Southwest Onslow) plays club ball somewhere,” Lewis said. “More than likely, all of them.”
The Cougars graduate five seniors: Angelina Nacca, Courtney Sutton, Ja’Quiera Braswell, Juanita Cortes-Torres and Yulisa Torres.
“The seniors were the engine to our machine,” Lewis said, referring in particular to Nacca at forward and Cortes-Torres as an attacking midfielder.
Southwest Onslow (16-4-3), of the East Central 2A Conference, will face Carrboro, a 1-0 winner over First Flight, in the fourth round.
Goldsboro finishes the season 18-3-3.