by Aaron Garcia
When Cuthbertson’s Alex Duty scored the Cavs’ fifth and final penalty kick to clinch the Class 2A state girls soccer championship on May 27, coach Nelson Garner couldn’t help but smile as his players converged on the field to celebrate.
“I was just so excited for the girls,” recalled Garner.
Given the circumstances, Garner’s happiness had to be due, at least in part, to relief. As if playing a state championship game of any sort weren’t harrowing enough, the pressure surrounding Cuthbertson’s title game against Carrboro was compounded when the game was delayed for more than an hour and a half because of rain and lightning.
The game, slated to begin at 5 p.m. at Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park, finally got underway at around 6:40 p.m.
“That threw all the preparation and our normal routine out of whack,” said Garner. “Honestly, I knew (my players) were focused. The biggest thing was just keeping them relaxed.”
The Cavaliers took an early lead when Leah Drawdy, who moved from her normal forward spot to midfield, scored on a penalty kick. Carrboro answered with just 1 minute, 57 seconds left in the game to tie the contest at 1.
“That was pretty demoralizing at the time,” noted Garner.
The stalemate lasted through two overtimes and a pair of sudden-death periods, sending the game to penalty kicks.
To make matters worse, the Cavs’ Bridgett Coomber suffered a concussion in the final sudden-death period, leaving the team without one of its leaders for the remainder of the game.
Drawdy converted the Cavs’ first attempt, but Carrboro answered. Ashlee Hall took the second kick and scored before Carrboro then hit the crossbar on its next attempt. Cuthbertson’s Sarah Wilson, Amanda Shuttleworth and Alex Duty each nailed their attempts, clinching the title, 5-4.
“I learned a tremendous amount about the heart and determination these girls have,” said Garner, whose team finished with a 24-2 overall record. “I don’t know how they managed to do it, but they did. I’m obviously super proud of them for it.
“Sometimes it works out that way, and sometimes it doesn’t – that’s part of life. But this particular time it did, and that was sure sweet.”
The victory marked the first team state title in any sport for the second-year school, and Garner was thrilled that his squad was able to set the standard.
“It’s awesome, it really is,” Garner said. “It’s like I told the girls, ‘You have a chance to make history here.’
“It’s pretty cool to be the first team to do it.”
The Cavaliers’ championship roster also included Gabby Clement, Phenix Durham, Megan Feranda, Elizabeth Fogleman, Jessica Greenleaf, Cardyn Hall, Annie Newman, Marisa Pagan, Jane Sosinski and Tiffany Walker.