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Hough girls smile in aftermath of difficult loss

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

RALEIGH Hough’s girls’ soccer team lost to Cary Green Hope 2-0 Saturday in Raleigh. Afterward, the Huskies huddled, then walked about 60 yards to the stands, where their fans awaited with a warm and lengthy standing ovation.

It was a disappointing end to their bid to win back-to-back N.C. 4A state championships.

Hough’s players, dressed in white, walked arm-in-arm to the opposite sideline. There were tears in their eyes, but there were also smiles on their faces. They laughed a little through the pain.

They had just lost to an unbeaten, nationally ranked team in what was essentially a home game for Green Hope. The huge Falcons crowd had a short drive to N.C. State’s well-maintained soccer field.

“It was a great matchup,” Hough goalie Marnie Merritt said. “We knew how they were and they knew how we were. It was just their day.”

She’s right. Green Hope dominated the game. Hough had early chances and a few late chances, but not much in between.

But the Huskies kept trying, kept pressing and very nearly tied the game late. Merritt said she was proud of her team’s effort .

Hough had returned to the championship round after losing nine seniors from its 2012 title team . And the Huskies were back after beating state-championship caliber teams – Lake Norman and Myers Park – on the road and in double-overtime during a pair of nail-biters in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.

“There’s nothing more than I can say,” Merritt said. “This team is awesome and these girls are fantastic. Coming (into the playoffs) as a second seed was a wake-up call for us. At the beginning of the season, we were a brand-new team with brand-new girls and we had to learn to work with each other and kind of start from the beginning again, so definitely all that played a role, but how we overcame stuff in the playoffs was fantastic and how we came to be a team was just great.”

Hough coach David Smith clutched the runner-up trophy and said he had similarly prideful feelings as his goalkeeper.

“I don’t know if you can really describe it,” he said, when asked how he felt this year versus when his team beat Green Hope in 2012. “It’s complete opposites. I hurt for the girls more than myself. That’s the biggest thing, just being hurt.

“But I’m still as proud of them as I was when we got off the bus. To overcome the loss of nine incredible seniors and be able to get back here to the championship game, and be in it for most of the game. ...”

Smith’s voice trailed off briefly as he stared at the ground and then shut his eyes.

Then he looked up and smiled.

“Man,” he finally said, “I have so much pride in these girls and what we accomplished this year. I really appreciate the effort.”

He should. The Huskies took Smith on a pretty incredible, and improbable, journey.

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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