By Lee Noles
MONROE – Despite the loss of one of the state’s most prolific scorers in Caleigh MacKinnon and a reconfigured backline, the Union Academy girls soccer team continues to dominate.
Through April 1, the reigning 1A champions are 11-0, they’ve won 32 consecutive games dating back to last season, tying Hough High for the state’s longest streak. Despite losing key defenders and one of the state’s most prolific scorers, the Cardinals are outscoring opponents 65-4 to start the year.
MacKinnon’s importance and absence can’t be overlooked, as the three-time all-state selection scored 176 times.
With MacKinnon’s graduation, junior midfielder Sarah Brown, a two-time all-state selection, is taking on more of an offensive mindset. Brown, who verbally committed to play for the Charlotte 49ers in October, can score. She has 69 goals for her career, but it was her playmaking that was essential to the Cardinals’ explosive offense a year ago as she finished with a state record 53 assists. Her 21 goals not only leads this year’s team, but has already exceeded her 19 from last season.
Kelsey Havican tallied 32 goals and 21 assists to garner all-region honors last year as a sophomore. She is second on the team this season with 11 goals.
Catie O’Grady provides another offensive punch as the senior forward has reached double digits in goals each of the last three seasons.
Sophomore Mia Fraticelli played quality minutes as a reserve during the state title run, but coach Vic Johnson expects more as she moves into a starting role.
Defensively, the Cardinals allowed just seven goals last year. Their 21 shutouts ranked within the top-10 all-time in the NCHSAA single-season record book.
But graduation hit the group hard as four-year starters Cameron Lacroix and Jessie Henson moved on. The departures leave sophomore Mya Manivanh, senior Emma Brewer and junior goalkeeper CC Coppin as the group’s only holdovers. Manivanh, who was all-state last year, pushed into the offense regularly, but now focuses on controlling the defensive middle of the field.
Manivanh helped hold Sun Valley forward and Appalachian State signee Kyndall Edwards scoreless during the Cardinals 1-0 win March 22 and routinely marks the other team’s best player.
“I’m having a defensive mindset,” said Manivanh, who has six goals this year after finding the net 19 times last year. “This year’s thinking is defensively we just don’t let them score.”
The turnover to the backline also has Johnson rearranging his formation, as this year just three defenders in front of Coppin, who was all-region a year ago. Sophomore Rachel Roncace joins a backline that Johnson said is still figuring out what works for them.
“We have never played this and we are still trying to work out the kinks,” Johnson said. “As a team, we switched because of a lack in numbers at center back, and we are little off because Mya can’t get forward and Emma can’t get forward.”
As the Cardinals work through their kinks, they are playing well and know they’re getting everyone’s best shot after finally breaking through for the school’s first team sport title.
“Obviously, we are going to have a big target because we have that title,” Manivanh said. “If we keep progressing and playing the way we play, then teams are going to worry about us.”