As a net-seeking striker for the Rocky Mount Gryphons, senior Sarah Bland is always thinking ahead on the field.
But Bland’s mind also raced toward the immediate future during halftime of Monday’s home meeting with Southern Lee in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A girls soccer playoffs.
At the time, the score was tied at 3-3, and Southern Lee had proven itself to be a worthy challenger to the Gryphons with 40 minutes remaining.
“Our group of (six) seniors – we have played together for a long time,” Bland said. “It kind of hit me at halftime that this might be it. Nobody wanted this to be our last game. It really woke us up.”
Rocky Mount responded with four unanswered goals, including two from Bland, to advance in the playoffs with a 7-3 triumph.
Bland, who can excel both off the rush and in traffic, now has 47 goals this season. If that number seems high, considering that she delivered an almost-unbelievable 65 goals as a junior.
“It’s pretty clear that if you put Sarah in front of the goal, she is going to score,” said Rocky Mount co-coach Zach Shaikh. “You don’t find that combination of speed and aggressiveness like Sarah has.”
Bland displayed her speed Wednesday by finding herself free on a pair of breakaways that required a dribble rush of over 40 yards on each occasion. Once Bland was in the clear, no defender was going to catch her, and Bland’s undeniable accuracy left the Southern Lee keeper no hope of making a save.
But while Bland draws raves with her abilities in the open field, she added a dose of verticality to her game when she rose over three Cavaliers’ defenders for a header off a corner kick that gave the Gryphons an insurmountable four-goal cushion in the second half.
“They have always done a great job of getting the ball to me in open spaces and giving me good scoring opportunities,” Bland said.
Bland has been on the soccer field since she was a youngster in the Tar River Youth Soccer Association, but her career will be ending after Rocky Mount’s current playoff push. Though she has been recruited by several schools, Bland has decided to attend the UNC-Chapel Hill in a non-athletic role.