Eastern Wake: Sports

Knightdale girls soccer gets best of East Wake in bitter rivalry

East Wake’s Makenzie Gairrett, left, and Knightdale’s Taylor Ward compete for control of the ball on Wednesday.
East Wake’s Makenzie Gairrett, left, and Knightdale’s Taylor Ward compete for control of the ball on Wednesday. newsobserver.com

Sophomore Tori Leech spent most of the scoreless first half posted up in the Knightdale net, watching her team’s match with rival East Wake on Wednesday from across the field.

At one point, the goalkeeper may have even yawned.

That all changed when Knightdale head coach Collin Dalton inserted Leech into the field after the halftime break. It took Leech about 20 minutes to put the Knights up 1-0 – a score that would hold until the game’s final whistle.

“When you’re on the field it’s a completely different mentality,” Leech said. “In goal, you’re playing defense and when you’re on the field it’s about how you can help the team – whether you’re scoring or not, it’s about finishing.”

Leech’s game-winning header, which came on a high, arcing cross from junior teammate Elizabeth Snotherly, gave the Knights (6-6, 5-3 Greater Neuse River 4A) their sixth win of the season.

“(The ball) was sailing over the defender and I knew at that moment that I had to get over the defender if I wanted something to happen,” Leech said. “I just jumped as high as I could and flicked the ball in.”

The strike was hardly Knightdale’s first scoring chance of the game. Leech’s first half in net was uneventful because East Wake had its hands full defending a steady offensive assault by the Knights, leaving little room for runs of its own.

“It’s frustrating to come out of 40 minutes without a goal because of how hard we worked,” Dalton said.

While Knightdale’s frustrations lasted a half and some change, those of the Warriors persisted throughout the entire match.

“It’s hard to accept, but now on our senior night at East Wake we’re going to bring it, and we’re going to be sure to win,” said East Wake senior Makenzie Gairrett.

Gairrett’s senior co-captain L.A. Tedder and Warriors head coach Crystal Espey are equally confident about the rematch slated for May 7.

“I think we just have to work on finishing our balls, getting up in the air and finishing those balls in the air,” Tedder said.

Espey spoke on the need to play with fire for an entire game.

“That’s the only way we’re going to be successful,” she said. “We look forward to seeing (Knightdale) again on our senior night.”

Dalton said when the two teams meet, records go out the window and the rivalry takes over.

“Everybody knows everybody,” Dalton said. “It’s all about beating their best friend, rather than just beating the other team that they’re playing.”

The intensity associated with the matchup can be blinding, according to Dalton. He said sometimes the uncontrollable desire to defeat a familiar opponent can adversely affect a team’s ability to make smart plays.

“That kind of gets into their mentality, and they tend to forget what they’re doing at times,” Dalton said.