It’d be hard to repeat last year’s wild ride through the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls soccer playoffs.
Middle Creek finished fourth in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference but went to the state title game. Athens Drive finished sixth but made it to the 4A East final. Almost every conference champion in the East was eliminated before the third round.
Two other teams were runner-up last year: Franklin Academy in 1A and Cary Academy in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A playoffs.
Carrboro, which will be featured in the regional preview, won the NCHSAA 2A title and Grace Christian Raleigh won the NCISAA 2A crown.
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Note: This previews covers conferences where most of the teams are located in Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties. A regional preview covering all other teams will run Sunday.
Cap-8 4A: Leesville Road (21-2-2) and Millbrook (14-3-2) were co-conference champs. Leesville’s Rachel Golden is back from the all-state team.
Millbrook has state title aspirations after losing just one player from last year’s team. This year’s group is led by VCU recruit Lauren Griffiths, Charlotte recruit Brianna Morris, East Carolina recruit Hayleigh Pack, Gabby Sturla and UNC recruit Alexis Strickland.
Sanderson (15-7-3) tied Heritage (12-7-2) for third in the league. Wakefield (13-7-1) has a talented group with Morgan Nanni, Tori Hansen and others.
Broughton (5-10-2) will look to Savannah Jones, Kathryn Weil, Meredith Brown, Ava Neija and others to lead the way.
Greater Neuse 4A: Clayton (22-2) returns as the conference champ with a lot of firepower, led by Holland Mills (31 goals). Knightdale (14-7-2) was second to the Comets.
West Johnston (12-5-3) has senior Robin Pollard, who scored a county record 59 goals. Garner (10-11) is led by Grace Bondurant (33 goals)
PAC-6 4A: Cardinal Gibbons (21-2) was upset in the second round of last year’s playoffs after a strong season led by sophomores Maggie Pierce and Emily Duerr, senior Caroline Goudy and others.
East Chapel Hill (11-10-2) was second in the league. Callie Hammond (18 goals) and Jenna Garrison (16) are back to lead Northern Durham (13-7).
Southwest Wake 4A: Green Hope (16-2-3) was talented but young last year. Grace Wagner (16 goals, 12 assists) is back as well as UNC recruit Izzy Brown, central defender Bailey Petersen, midfielder Taylor Cammarata and goalkeeper Lilly Dunn.
Fuquay-Varina (16-5-1) lost senior leaders but should be strong with Hannah McClaugherty, goalkeeper Rachel Howard, Trinity Davis and Maddie Smith.
Panther Creek (12-10-3) has Charlotte recruit Meredith Hamby and Appalachian State recruit Lindsey Haney.
Middle Creek (13-6-6) will miss Camryn Amaker, last year’s leading scorer out for the season with injury. Kylie McElroy had 12 goals last year – nine in a six-game playoff run. Mattie Murphy and Caroline Lauer round out a strong nucleus.
New coach Meryssa Wacholder will lead Athens Drive (15-8-3). Robin Gallagher leads the team along with goalkeeper Mary Grace Bunch, Shaelyn Raleigh and Bethel Belayneh.
Holly Springs (11-9-4) loses only two seniors from last year and returns all-conference back Alyssa Poth. Ellis Fitzhugh, Jackie Blendermann, Sydney Sizemore, Natalie McDonald and Ava Slovensky round out the rest.
Big 8 3A: Chapel Hill (17-3-2) will be young this year, with just four seniors and three juniors. The Tigers are led by all-conference players Meg Testen, Elise Ederle, Alex Kerr and Mikayla Brenman. Northwood (14-7-1) and Orange (13-10) were second and third.
Two Rivers 3A: Corinth Holders (19-4-1) dominated the league last year, giving up just three goals in league play. The Pirates return junior Carolina Solis (46 goals, 11 assists). Cleveland (8-10-1) has the best shot of anyone at knocking off Corinth. Natalie Sabiston had 18 goals for Smithfield-Selma (9-12).
NCAC 1A: Franklin Academy (22-2) will be powered by forward Kiera Stephan (45 goals, 13 assists).
Woods Charter (17-7) has Isabel Pearce (49 goals, 21 assists), one of the state’s leading returning scorers.
Raleigh Charter (13-7) welcomes back coach Steve Grosso after a one-season hiatus. The Phoenix lose eight seniors and will be led by Daisy Bonifant, Karley Dreyer and Hana Chabinsky.
Private schools: Cary Academy (16-1) has three all-state picks back: Jessica McCoppin, Remi Swartz and Charlotte Waechter.
Grace Christian Raleigh (15-3-2) is led in its quest for a repeat by junior all-state pick Alexis Lang.
St. David’s (14-3-2) returns all-state seniors Sarah Reynolds and Patterson Sheehan from the state runner-up team.