Once again this postseason, Fuquay-Varina was facing continual pressure from a top-ranked team.
But once again, the Bengals never wilted.
Fuquay-Varina stayed composed against the numerous early scoring attacks of previously-undefeated Myers Park in Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls soccer championship at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Stadium.
And it was rewarded with a 1-0 victory and the first state title in program history.
“This game was kind of a carbon-copy to our season as a whole. We started kind of slow, sluggish and finally got our feet,” said Fuquay coach Nick Acosta, who won three 2A state titles as a player at Swansboro. “We came out in the second half and we were just a different team.”
Unlike some previous 4A champions, blowouts were never the Bengals’ forte.
Fuquay-Varina (18-4-2) won seven one-goal games this season – and only three came by three or more goals. Those numbers don’t include two penalty-kick shootouts that happened in the third round and the East final, both of which Fuquay-Varina won in order to keep the championship dream alive.
So although the Mustangs (21-1-1) of Charlotte had eight corner kicks, compared to Fuquay’s three, and an 8-4 advantage in shots, the Bengals didn’t panic. Myers Park controlled most of the first-half possession.
That was typical of the Bengals’ season, which started out with an inauspicious 3-3-1 mark.
Its unflappable demeanor was typified by championship MVP Amaya Gill.
Gill, a junior defender, marked Myers Park star forward Ariana Maibodi and turned away several Mustangs attacks. Kristin Davis, the Fuquay goalkeeper, made four saves. Grace Naylor, Amanda Claudio and Tori Gagliardi formed the rest of the back line.
“We had to keep clearing it out and work very hard,” Gill said.
In the 42nd minute, however, the Bengals struck in Bengals fashion.
A searching cross from Claudio made its way into the box, where it was headed down near the back post. A Myers Park defender was holding back Katelyn Laux so that a Mustangs teammate could clear the ball away.
But Laux kept fighting for position, and worked her way around in front of the kick slammed into her abdomen. The gritty effort paid off when the ball ricocheted into the net for the day’s only goal.
“It was just power and desire that got the ball in the goal,” Laux said.
Fuquay-Varina has a well-deserved reputation for success in other spring sports like baseball and softball, but room will have to be made for one more program. The Bengals, who came up just short in its only other previous appearance in the girls soccer title game in 1999, now have eight NCHSAA team titles total across all sports.