Charlotte Latin Soccer coach Lee Horton knows how to recognize talented players.
Horton's Hawks are the two-time defending North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association state champions and currently are undefeated at 12-0. Latin has scored 60 goals this season while allowing only five. The Hawks are ranked number two in Region II by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
The Hawks are fundamentally sound as a team, have great footwork and defensive strength. They boast three Division I prospects that include senior all-state players McCallie Jones (College of Charleston) and McKay Kirkland (Kentucky). But with injuries that sidelined both Jones and Kirkland, it's been some of the team's younger talent that has shone through.
Freshman Ashley Finke is off to a spectacular start, leading the team with 16 goals, but it's sophomore forward Chimdimma Okwara who Horton described as "dynamite."
Okwara, known to teammates and friends as "Amma," scored two goals in the teams' 9-1 win against South Carolina's Saint Josephs on March 30.
"She has unbelievable potential," said Horton. "She is blessed with speed that you can't develop."
Okwara surprises players on the field; they think they will get to the ball before her, then she just zooms right in for a shot, often with the goalie watching from behind or beside her.
"In the first half (of the March 30 game), the goalie thought she had the ball and Amma got there and got a toe (on the ball) and went around her and just walked it in (to the net)," said Horton of one of Okwara's two goals that game.
"She has incredible speed, she can jump and head the ball. With work over the next two years, continuing to work on her skills and her touch, she's a great talent.
"I think she's just realizing that now. Her confidence has just really grown a lot. Last year, as a freshman, she didn't know when to make the run or where to position herself, and now the things we've taught her, she doesn't have to think about them, they've become instinctive."
Okwara also admits that last season she was unsure of her roll. Having played on a club team with only two or one forward, she had to adjust to Latin's three-forward system.
"I have to get wider," she said. "I'm starting this season. I feel I have more responsibility to help the rookies now, as a sophomore."
She's progressively taken on more responsibility on the field. In the season opener against Hibriten she had one assist. She assisted on the only goal the team scored April 6 against Charlotte Country Day.
Then, coming back from spring break April 15, after a week off the field, she booted in two goals in the first three minutes against Cannon School - and she added another assist to her team-leading 13.
Okwara has seven goals, and 27 points - second on the team behind Finke's 36 points. Okwara attributes her team's success so far this season to their chemistry and hard work ethic; so does Horton.
"You know, they are a great group of girls, and all we talk about is keeping our heads in the right place, working hard and just trying to get better," said Horton. "I really think they are doing a good job with that. They continue to show up every game and work hard, and what else can you ask for as a coach?"
Erica Singleton covers sports for South Charlotte News. Contact her at email@example.com.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less