Soccer playoff preview -- Young players in big situations
By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 11, 2004 1:59 PM
A youth movement.
The area playoff-bound girls soccer teams are abundantly laden with young, underclassmen talent, and the freshman and sophomores aren't just on the squads to fill out the roster.
Among the five N.C. High School Athletic Association state playoff qualifiers in the area -- Charles B. Aycock, Eastern Wayne, Rosewood, North Lenoir and North Johnston -- four have underclassmen players that are leading their teams in goals.
A number of these younger players are developing their skills against competition from across the state with the Goldsboro Lady Sting select squads of the Neuse River Youth Soccer Association. Some even play for the Sting on the weekends during the high school season.
Rosewood's Erin Thibodeau scored 40 goals her freshman year and has posted an area-high 38 goals to go with 12 assists in her sophomore campaign. Fellow sophomore Stephanie Behrend has 16 goals and 23 assists for the Eagles, who finished second in the Classes 2-A Eastern Plains/1-A Carolina/Super-Six Conference.
"The senior leadership has been great, but you don't have to be a senior to be a leader," said Rosewood assistant coach Brian Brewer, whose team has only three seniors. "Leaders are those who step up and take initiative.
"This may be the most balanced team in the three years that I have been there. We've got lots of players who can hurt you."
Staying in that conference, the conference-champion Hawks' sophomore duo of Katie Maloney and Haley Bright have 32 goals each with Bright dishing out a lofty 21 assists, while Maloney has 10 assists for the conference champs. Out in Kenly, North Johnston sophomore Jenna Gudac has 26 goals and eight assists for the third-place Panthers.
It's not just the players who are new for these three either -- each has a first-year head coach in Rosewood's Eddie Maldonado, North Lenoir's Dan Amadeo and North Johnston's Brent Walston.
"We knew we were going to be good, we just didn't know how good," Amadeo said. "There have been a lot of improvements and surprises as far as individual achievement."
Veteran Eastern Wayne coach Jorg Wagner has a couple of freshman in Samantha Frazer and Natalie Taylor, who have been catalyst to the Warriors' goal-production. Frazer has 15 goals and 4 assists, and Taylor has 13 goals and 12 assists.
As far as goal totals, the lone exception is Charles B. Aycock.
The co-conference champion Golden Falcons' were paced by senior Mary Beth Hooks' 16 goals, while fellow senior Jessie Lamb has 11. Aycock sophomore goalie Emily Stewart and sophomore midfielder/sweeper Tara Fenton have been a big key to their 10 shutouts this season.
"We've got that core group of seniors, and the young ones have learned a lot from the seniors as far as work ethic and hustle," Aycock coach John Fidler said. "The raw talent of the young kids has been a successful mix for us."
The existence of young talent, mixed with a solid classic program, should make area soccer teams consistently dangerous for the next several years. Still, current postseason success will have a lot to do with how well each team's core of upperclassmen mix with the youth and lead each of their teams against unfamiliar competition.
"The biggest contribution the upperclassmen can give is their leadership, and help the younger players understand our system because it's really complex, especially our defense," Wagner said. "We have so much talent coming up that all we have to do is follow the lead the upperclassmen give, and we will be O.K."
No surprise, anchoring four of the playoff defenses are four senior sweepers -- Eastern Wayne's Sarah Bacon, Rosewood's Stacy Ellis, North Lenoir's Ruthanne Hardy and North Johnston's Christy Johnson.
The gaudy offensive numbers certainly jump out, but its been a stout year across the board for area defenses.
Aycock's 10 shutouts leads the way, while North Lenoir has seven. Eastern Wayne, Rosewood and North Johnston have all blanked six opponents.
Wayne Country Day opens the first round of the 1-A North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs at Community Christian in Wilson today.
The Chargers enter the tournament with a 7-7-1 overall record after finishing 2-7-1 in the Coastal Plains Independent Conference.
Junior Christin Grubb leads Wayne Country Day with 13 goals and eight assists, while fellow junior Sarah Coleman has 11 goals and six assists. Seventh-grader Virginia Best has nine goals and seven assists.
The Chargers have two shutouts this season.
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