Athens Drive continued its Cinderella run in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls soccer playoffs, dispatching upstart New Bern 4-0 on Wednesday night in a game that was cut short by eight minutes because of lightning around Williams Stadium.
The Jaguars (13-7-3) were a No. 24 seed entering the postseason but were playoff ready after playing through a tough Southwest Wake Athletic Conference schedule. Facing No. 25 seed New Bern – an upset winner of No. 8 J.H. Rose in the first round – Athens scored in the third minute and built a commanding 3-0 lead by halftime.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said senior forward Rachel Snyder, who scored two of her three goals in the first half. “We’ve never won a playoff game (since this year’s seniors have been in high school), let alone get this far, so it’s been really exciting. We’re together, we all really like each other and want to play for each other – and we just want to win.”
Athens finished sixth in the SWAC, whose schools went 7-0 in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’re playing well at the right time of the year,” Athens coach Travis Seese said. “I talked to the girls a lot: ‘I don’t want to be great in March. I want to be great in May.’ We’re starting to put it together here at the end of the year, and we’ve started playing really well. Our conference schedule definitely prepared us for the playoffs.”
The victory brought the curtain down on Williams Stadium, which is being replaced by a new stadium in the fall.
“It was a bit of a surprise; last game in this stadium,” Seese said. “It’s nice to know that we can go out with a win. The last game of 25, 30 years, and we go out with a win.”
Athens, which upset No. 9 seed Millbrook in the first round, jumped ahead in the third minute when Snyder took a long pass from Robin Gallagher and fired a 15-yard shot past Bears keeper Brianna Ledford.
The Jags kept the pressure on, as Snyder was able to get behind New Bern’s defense after long passes from teammates. Gallagher, a defender, made it 2-0 in the 16th minute on a header following a corner kick.
In the 24th minute, Snyder took a pass from her sister, Erika, and scored her second goal.
“It’s really cool,” Rachel Snyder said of scoring off a pass from her sister. “It’s almost like we have twin telepathy, even though it’s not real. But it’s really cool to be able to play together and work together.”
New Bern coach Tim Guter said Rachel Snyder was a “handful.”
“We knew that coming in,” Guter said. “I didn’t think we did what we set out to do, to try to keep her in front of us. We let her get behind us, and in the first two-and-a-half minutes, they score. You dig yourself a hole, and it’s hard to recover from that.”
Snyder finished the hat trick, with an assist from Stephanie Bartlett, in the 65th minute.
“Rachel is outstanding all the way around, whether it’s leadership or her play on the field,” Seese said. “She is just so strong. She puts all kinds of pressure on their backs, she finishes her shots, and she is hard to cover.”
Defenders Gallagher, Bartlett, Shaelyn Raleigh and Anna Rain kept Bears’ forwards bottled up, and Athens keeper Mary Grace Bunch only had to make two saves.
“Robin, Shaelyn, Stephanie and Anna work very well together,” Seese said. “They play smart. They know when to play it on the ground and work the ball through, playing the feet up. They know when to clear it out. Across the board, they’re smart players.”
Next up for Athens is the winner between. No. 1 Clayton and No. 17 Jack Britt.
“We keep playing the way we have been,” Snyder said, “and I think we can pick up another win.”