High School Sports

Woods Charter shuts down Kestrel Heights in girls soccer’s first round

The 1A classification of the N.C. High School Athletics Association comprises the state’s smallest schools. Wednesday evening, Woods Charter’s play in the NCHSAA girls soccer 1A playoffs belied the program’s size.

Led by junior captain Isabel Pearce, Woods Charter dominated Durham’s Kestrel Heights School in a 9-0 win for the Wolves against thgeir NCAC rival. Woods Charter led 7-0 at halftime of the truncated game and scored two more goals in the second half to end the game quickly.

Pearce scored 42 goals during the 2016 regular season, tops in the state, according to Coach Graeme Stewart. Pearce added five more Wednesday.

Coach Stewart raved about his star striker.

“She’s going to be playing in college somewhere,” Stewart said. “She does a great job for us and she works hard up top.”

Anjali Gupta scored two goals, while Julianna Puccio and Mackenzie Abbott each chipped in one goal.

Seeded 25th in the NCHSAA playoffs, Kestrel Heights (5-14-1) could see it all coming. Both schools are members of the North Central Athletics Conference, and No. 8 seed Woods Charter (16-6-0) had shut out the Hawks twice in the regular season by 9-0 scores.

Kestrel Heights was outscored 31-117 this season. Woods Charter outscored its opponents 103-28.

Still, Kestrel Heights Coach Willis Foster found some positives after the loss, like how his new soccer program had made the first round of the playoffs the last three years. After starting off with a co-ed club, Foster was able was able to build a varsity program in a relatively short amount of time. His simple goal for next season is for his Hawks to reach the playoffs for a fourth straight year.

“Next year is probably going to be a rebuilding year,” Foster said. “We have a lot of seniors. ... It’s going to be a rebuilding year, but to have (the class of 2016 seniors) for the three years we’ve had them, we’ve had some pretty good showings.”

Woods Charter sympathizes with some of the challenges Kestrel Heights has faced as a small school building up a soccer program. In just its fifth year of varsity NCHSAA play, Woods Charter is in the playoffs for a third straight year.

“It’s always a challenge,” Stewart said. “We’ve only got a squad of 16, so we are used to competing against bigger schools who have more players, but I rely on all my players. We have to work with players and develop them.”

With a big first round win in the books, Woods Charter’s attention now turns to the Wolves’ next playoff match – tentatively scheduled for Saturday against No. 9 seed Lejeune (11-4-2), which dispatched No. 24 Research Triangle 6-0 Wednesday night.

Facing a Devil Pups team that’s won five out of its last seven could be an uphill battle, but Stewart believes in his small-school team with big-time talent.

“The girls are capable. I believe in them, they believe in themselves,” Stewart said.

“Obviously there are some strong teams in the East, but I believe on our day we can compete with them. “