by Aaron Garcia
One would think that when Stephanie Arias’ goal hit the back of the net in the 49th minute of the Class 1A state soccer final on May 28, the game’s first goal would’ve provided some relief for the Central Academy of Technology and Arts coach, Jay Niessner.
Instead, Niessner couldn’t help but look at the game clock.
“Wow, there’s a lot of time left,” Niessner recalled thinking after the goal. “That was the longest 30 minutes of my life. It seemed like the clock wouldn’t move.”
In the end, however, the Cougars’ defense held fast and kept Southwest Onslow from scoring the equalizer, and Central Academy claimed its first state title in any sport, 1-0, at Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park.
“The last seconds ticked off and everybody rushed the field and made a big pile,” Niessner said. “It was very exciting.”
Niessner said his team battled some early-game jitters before finally settling down.
“Once the girls got into the rhythm of just playing soccer,” he said, “it was like, ‘OK, it’s just a game now. We know what we’re doing, we’re good.’”
Central Academy finished with a 20-4-1 record this spring. But the season’s turning point didn’t come with one of the team’s wins. Instead, it was during a 5-1 loss to Class 4A Porter Ridge on March 25. Despite the defeat, Niessner liked what he saw from his team that day.
“We learned a lot from watching the film of it a couple of times,” Niessner explained. “I really think that was when the girls started seeing we can play with anybody.”
This season’s goal wasn’t necessarily to win a state title, said Niessner. Instead, the Cougars aimed to progress past the second round of the playoffs – something the program hadn’t done in its four-year history. Once the Cougars beat East Montgomery in the second round, Niessner said, “I thought we had a chance to do something really special.”
And they did.
“I was just thrilled for them,” said Niessner. “They put in the work and the effort to get here and do this.
“I kept telling them all year, ‘If you keep putting in the work, if you if you keep putting in the effort and you do what we (coaches) ask you to do, something good is going to happen.”
The Cougars’ roster also included Larie Bailey, Laura Courtney, Kaitlyn Faassen, Racquel Fisher, Itzel Godinez, Lauren Harrison, Shelby Harriston, Cindy Helms, Hannah Hill, Katie Kurtz, Lindsey Kurtz, Alex Leitner, Violeta Perez, Rebekah Randall, Miranda Ritz, Hilda Sierra, Anna Strickland, Grace Wallace and Sara Yang.