Heading into the playoffs, Carolina Forest’s girls soccer team hoped for a better postseason showing than last year’s second-round exit.
Most of their players had come back. They repeated as region co-champs. They secured a No. 1 seed.
But the Panthers will miss the second round this year.
A disciplined Lexington squad stifled Carolina Forest’s offense on Monday and pulled ahead in the second half to win 3-2, eliminating the Panthers in the opening round. Despite the loss, coach Will Hall praised his team.
“The girls have done a phenomenal job,” he said. “We found the success that we found last year when half the team was freshmen.”
At halftime of Monday’s game, it looked like the Panthers would be moving on. Goals from Emma Bucci and Sidney Croland had given Carolina Forest a 2-1 lead, and they attacked early in the second half as well. But the tightly organized Lexington defense limited the Panthers’ scoring opportunities. Carolina Forest came close, hitting the post and the cross bar, but they couldn’t convert and the Wildcats continued pressuring the Panther defense. Lexington took the lead with about 20 minutes left and held on.
Although disappointed with the early playoff departure, Hall remains optimistic about next spring. All but two of his starters will be returning, including a stellar junior class.
The biggest challenge for Hall will be replacing three seniors: defensive leader Abbie McCoy and keepers Cameron McWhorter and Paige Petrizzo.
“I’ve got a big, big hole to fill on defense,” he said.
McCoy was the all-region player of the year last season.
“She ran the defense,” Hall said. “She was the anchor. We watched her even when she was down at JV. We knew that she was going to be something very special.”
McWhorter became the starting goalie as a freshman when the team had no other options for that position. Although she had no experience playing soccer, she was a cheerleader and Hall’s wife Kayla coaches that team. He recruited her to play.
“Cameron looked like a natural athlete and I needed a keeper,” he said. “So I said, ‘Hey, you ever played soccer?’”
Petrizzo stepped in after McWhorter was injured in a tournament last year, but she always remained in a backup role.
“Paige knew that she was second string and she never let it get her down,” Hall said. “And when we called on her, Paige was ready to go.”
Although he’s not sure where he’ll find his next keeper, Hall does have a replacement picked for McCoy — fullback Gabby Giracello, one of eight sophomores expected to return for their junior campaign. Add in some transfers and rising JV talent, and the Panthers’ cupboard is well stocked.
“We have plans in place for the seasons to come,” Hall said.