Franklin Academy is back in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A girls soccer championship, and against the same team as a year ago.
But there are at least two reasons why this year feels a lot different from last season.
Not having to rush any players to the emergency room after the NCHSAA 1A East final, which the Patriots won 3-0 on Tuesday against Woods Charter, is a good start. It was in that round where Franklin Academy lost two starters – Kiera Stephan to a torn ACL and the Chloe Armitage with a broken wrist – days before it played Community School of Davidson in the title.
CSD won the 2016 championship 5-1 and this Saturday’s championship at N.C. State will be a rematch.
But Franklin Academy (22-2) has another leg up on last year: it’s already seen CSD (25-1) this season. The Patriots lost 2-1 on a neutral field in Charlotte.
“After that really large loss at state (last year) and then coming back and losing 2-1 this season gives us a lot of motivation and a lot of motivation going into the (state championship),” FA coach Kambyl Borries said. “This year we have eight seniors. They’re all getting ready to graduate, go off and do their thing, and it’s kind of a last-ditch effort. It’s one last hurrah.”
Kennedy Capps leads this year’s team with 29 goals, adding one in Tuesday’s East final. Niamh Stephan, who had both assists, has 28 goals (17 assists) and Kiera Stephan has 23 after adding two on Tuesday.
The Tuesday loss concluded the stellar career of Woods Charter (16-5-1) senior star Isabel Pearce. She exits her high school career as the NCHSAA’s all-time leader in career goals (226) and goals in a single season (80).
It couldn’t have happened without first finding just enough girls – 12 total – to suit up so the Wolves would’ve had a team for Pearce’s senior year.
“I didn’t expect to break any records. I just wanted to play the game. At the beginning, we didn’t have enough players to field a team, so we had to go around from classroom to classroom and say ‘Hey, you guys want to play soccer?,’” Pearce said. “We started out with nine and ended up with 12.”
Woods coach Graeme Stewart said that he couldn’t have envisioned a final four finish at the beginning of the year with that few players, but by the way his team was playing at the end, he could.
“We’ve grown as a unit, we’ve grown as a team and they’e come together,” Stewart said. “They turned the negative of only having 12 girls into a positive.”