For Cardinal Gibbons, the foundation for its run to Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls soccer title match was laid last season.
Carrying legitimate state championship hopes a year ago, the Crusaders were surprised in the third round by Middle Creek, losing 1-0 in overtime. The loss has served as a motivational tool throughout the course of this season, one that has produced a 22-1-1 record.
“We were really disappointed last year when we got knocked out in the third round,” said Gibbons coach Michele Miller, whose squad will meet West Forsyth (25-1-1) at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Complex at 8 p.m.. “It has sat bad with us for all this time, so this team had a mission from the very beginning. We didn’t want to just get to the state finals, we want to take home the ring. ... It’s been talked about, it’s been the focus, and we’ve just keep looking one round at a time.”
Another quality Miller feels her team possesses, perhaps in contrast to last year’s squad, has been mental toughness.
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That attribute has been on display particularly of late, as Gibbons had to do without two of its top players for two rounds of the state playoffs.
Senior defender Caroline Goudy, a four-year varsity player, was lost for the season after she suffered a torn ACL in the third-round game against Fuquay-Varina. Leading scorer Maggie Pierce missed both the Fuquay-Varina contest and the fourth-round game against Middle Creek to attend the U.S. Women’s National Team U17 camp in Florida.
Gibbons didn’t miss a beat, however. It cruised past Fuquay-Varina, 6-1, before rallying for a 2-1 victory over Middle Creek.
“We were down a couple the last two games, that’s why the Middle Creek game was so significant for us, because they were loaded with talent and for us to be missing two top players that have been there for every minute of every game for us … we just challenged every player to do a little bit more and they did it.” Miller said. “This group doesn’t quit. They’re workers, they’re coachable, they’re good kids. They go to battle everyday in our training sessions, and they carry that mentality over into the games.”
While Goudy won’t be back for Saturday’s title game, Pierce will suit up. The talented sophomore, already committed to North Carolina, made an immediate impact in her return to the line-up in Tuesday’s 4A East final, tallying a goal and an assist in a 2-0 victory over Hoggard.
Pierce is eager for the opportunity to produce Gibbons’ first state title since it won the 3A crown in 2013.
“I was very confident in my team, I felt we would get to this point when I got back,” Pierce said. “That loss last year, we were really mad about that and that gave us the competitive fire to get to this point where we are.”