Mackenzie Dipper is one of just three freshmen on Leesville Road’s girls soccer team, a team that won the NCHSAA 4A state title last year. Dipper has learned about the rich tradition and the many titles that have made Leesville Road’s soccer program the best in the Triangle.
Dipper also discovered that eventually, for the Pride to continue their great success, she would have to make the crucial plays – the ones that win you big matches – her older teammates have made.
Dipper, a forward, did just that Wednesday night. She scored the winning goal late in Leesville Road’s dramatic 2-1 road victory over Millbrook in the regular season finale for both teams.
Dipper had plenty of reasons to be proud of herself. She ended Millbrook’s hope of an undefeated season. Her goal gave Leesville Road its sixth consecutive Cap Eight conference title, which it will share this year with Millbrook. And she became a part of the Pride’s tradition.
“It’s such an honor to be a starter and help out the team,” Dipper said. “This is huge for me.”
A bizarre play gave Dipper the chance to score in the 73rd minute.
The Pride (19-1-1, 13-1) moved the ball deep inside the Wildcats’ territory when a Millbrook defender attempted to clear the ball out of the penalty box and toward midfield. But the kick hit a teammate. The deflection made the ball go on a course headed for Millbrook’s net.
Dipper slipped by both defenders and put her head down. With the crowd on its feet, Dipper used her left foot to take her low shot. The ball slid under a diving Anna Shelden, Millbrook’s goalkeeper, and into the net.
“I was so happy that it went in,” Dipper said.
Millbrook coach Matt Edwards said Dipper’s goal was more difficult that it appeared to be.
“She made the most out of that situation,” Edwards said. “That’s not an easy finish – one-on-one with the keeper bearing down on you in this type of game.”
Earlier this season, Millbrook defeated Leesville Road 2-1 in overtime. In that match, Millbrook defender Jackie Stroud scored the winning goal with 47 seconds left in extra time.
“That was a painful tape to watch,” Leesville Road coach Paul Dinkenor said of the first match. “This time, I thought we hung around and played with passion.”
Millbrook (16-1, 13-1) took the lead in the first half on a goal from defender Alexa Asher.
The Wildcats scored on a jumbled play inside the penalty box after corner kick. The ball eventually bounced to Asher. With multiple Leesville Road defenders running to her, Asher sent her shot over the heads the defenders and into the net.
Asher was the first to know she scored. Asher’s teammates soon hugged her when they realized they had taken the lead.
At halftime, Dipper heard veteran players such as forward Caroline Gentry, a senior, speak about redeeming themselves in the second half.
“It was a lot of talk coming straight from the heart,” Gentry said. “You really have to have that in these kinds of games. Yeah, you can have skill. But you really have to have the heart and mindset of not losing.”
Gentry created most of Leesville Road’s scoring chances in the first half. Her first shot went off the right post in the 10th minute. Later in the half, Gentry ran past Shelden, but her low shot was deflected away from the net by Millbrook defender Sarah Rouse.
Dinkenor moved Gentry from the right forward position to being a more central forward after halftime. Dinkenor’s adjustment allowed Gentry to score in the middle of the field in the 55th minute.
Though Edwards was disappointed his Wildcats couldn’t win the conference title outright, he said the Pride were the better team in the second half.
“We had a lot of chances, and I wish we could have put one or two away,” he said. “You leave great teams in games and they will take advantage of it.”
The Wildcats attempted a furious comeback in the final six minutes of the match, enough to produce a shot on goal. Leesville Road goalkeeper Sydney Wooten made her fourth and most important save.
“It was a great save,” Dinkenor said. “That’s when I knew we sealed it.”
Once the match was over, Gentry said the Pride did indeed redeem themselves.
“This was to prove that we can play soccer well,” Gentry said.
Dipper proved that to herself and her teammates, too. After Dipper scored, one of the first teammates to congratulate her with a hug was Gentry.