Knightdale coach Aaron Steele had to have been pleased as he watched his Knights pulled off a 4-0 victory over conference rival Garner in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
Before the season even started, Steele told his players they were going to make it to the second round of the playoffs. With the talent Knightdale had returning for this season, Steele knew they had a good chance of achieving that goal.
The win over Garner puts the Knights in the second round where they host defending state champion Panther Creek either Friday or Saturday.
“After watching the team play last year I saw that they lacked the multidimensional aspects of the game,” Steele said. “We had a big emphasis on the short game in practice and as the communication among the players grew, they team improved by leaps and bounds.”
Tuesday’s game was the rubber match between the two teams as they split the season series with the visiting team winning each time. The Trojans took the first contest at Knightdale 3-2, but the Knights turned the tables in the second matchup 2-1. In that first meeting, Knightdale made the mistake of letting Garner junior Grace Bondurant roam free. This time around the defense neutralized Bondurant’s speed which stifled the Trojan offensive attack.
“We couldn’t get our speed to work in our favor,” Garner coach Jennifer Enyeart said. “They just kept playing great and didn’t give us a chance to bounce back.”
Knightdale played the possession game, giving Garner little to work with. The Trojans had a few good outside runs, but were shut down by the Knightdale defense. The Knights scored their first goal when junior Elizabeth James picked up a rebound and drove it in with 12:05 left in the half for a 1-0 half-time lead.
The second half started a little sloppy, but the Knights settled down quickly as senior Tori Leech dribbled through the Trojan defense and won a one-on-one with freshman goal keeper Cassidy Wilson with 38:10 left in the game for a 2-0 Knights lead.
The Garner defense started dropping back and Knightdale took advantage of the situation by launching some long range shots. Junior Leah McCray launched one from about 20 yards out that found the back post for a 3-0 Knightdale lead at the 35:45 mark. Leech and McCray each upped the team lead at 22 goals on the season.
Leech just missed on two other long shots which seemed to help soften the Trojan back line for Junior Taylor Ward to loft one over Wilson’s outstretched arms for the 4-0 lead with 1:30 left in the game.
According to Steele, the girls are just starting to hit their stride.
“It took the season to develop team cohesion,” Steele said. “Teams get stronger as the season goes on and that’s what happened. I wanted them to know there was nothing to feel pressure about. I said we were going to the second round and the girls believed.”
With one win out of the way, Steele is hoping the momentum will carry over. Defense will be the key for the Knights as it has been all season for a team that allowed only 13 goals in conference play.
For the Trojans, the loss was disappointing, but Enyeart said it doesn’t diminish what the Trojans accomplished on the season. She said it was a great season for a very young team that loses only two seniors. With a good young nucleus, the future looks bright for Garner.