After coming painfully close in the previous three years, Coach Justin Valenti and his Lake Norman Charter girls’ soccer team couldn’t have ended the 2013 season on a better note.The Knights (18-3-3) not only claimed their first 1A state championship but did it in the most dramatic of fashions, outlasting Raleigh Charter 6-3 in overtime in the finals.Lake Norman Charter scored four times in the extra periods with then-sophomore sisters, Erin and Madeline Iknayan, sophomore Rachel Quest and junior Riley Kane – who are all back this year – scoring goals in the final 20 minutes.While the feeling of accomplishment can still be felt on the Lake Norman Charter sideline, the 2014 squad has already turned the page.The Knights will have a completely new challenge as they not only move up to class 2A, but also into the 2A/3A Big South conference with the likes of Ashbrook, East Gaston, Forestview, Hunter Huss, North Gaston, South Point and Stuart Cramer High.“The thing I like about this team already is that they know we have to start over,” said Valenti, in his sixth year as the Knights’ head coach. “There isn’t the feeling that we are still on top of the world. We all feel like we have a lot to prove this year. But we also have a lot to build on.”Kane, 17, now a senior, says this team already feels like it has something to prove.“We’ve all heard people say that we aren’t going to be as good this season,” Kane said. “But that just motivates us even more. We definitely lost some great players. But, once we start playing together and find our best positions, we have the potential to be a really good team again.” While Valenti lost several key seniors to graduation, including all-state picks Carolyn Huddy (goalkeeper) and Carolina Sanchez (midfielder), all-region standouts like Rina Leonidas, and defenders Briana Del Valle and Kylie Brown, they still have a strong core returning.That all starts up top, the where Knights’ all-time leading scorer (54 goals and counting Riley Kane (a UNC Pembroke signee) returns after scoring 21 goals as a junior.Kane will be joined by all-region juniors, the Iknayan sisters, who are both playmakers capable of playing the midfielder or up top. Erin was the MVP of the state championship game and made plays all year with 17 goals and eight assists. Meanwhile, Madeline led the team in assists with 15 while also netting five goals.Junior Taylor Gilbert will also figure heavily in the Knights’ offense (10 goals last year).While the Lake Norman Charter offense is loaded with experience, the defense will look to reload as Quest, the backup keeper last year, moves back to goalkeeper, where she should be a capable replacement for Huddy.Quest, who is also a Region III and North Meck Soccer Club standout in the goal, gives them a solid foundation.Valenti also believes senior Kelly Dugan and freshman defender Alexandra Haraldsson will be big keys from the start.“The biggest challenge we face is not having as much experience and consistency on defense, because we’ve really had that in place the last few years,” Valenti said. “But I feel like we have several players capable of stepping into those roles.”While Valenti says his team “knew they were the best 1A team in the state the last three seasons.” But with conference foes like Ashbrook and South Point in their path, they know nothing is a given.“Our goal for this year is to win our conference, and that’s it for now, Valenti said. “We have to focus on that goal, and if we can do that, then we can go from there. We’re in the proving stages of what we can accomplish. That is right where we need to be.”While Kane is on the same page with her coach, she admits winning a championship gives them a confidence that they might not have had before.“We know this is a whole new season,” Kane said. “But winning a state championship definitely gives us a lot of confidence that we can win the big games. Once you win a championship, it makes everyone on the team want to be a part of that kind of success.”
Tuesday, Mar. 04, 2014
Knights aim to prove they can be a contender, again
Five to watch
• Riley Kane, Lake Norman Charter, Sr. – Forward. Knights’ all-time leading scorer (54 goals and counting) had an all-conference, all-region junior season with 21 goals, UNC Pembroke signee.
• Marnie Merritt, Hough, Sr. – Goalkeeper. All-state goalkeeper had 18 shutouts in 24 games last season and looks to lead Huskies back to the state finals with a loaded squad with all-state team like Courtney Carroll. Merritt also in U20 U.S. National team pool.
• Kelly Flanders, Hopewell, Sr. – Center midfielder. Two-time all-conference, all-region pick, Appalachian state signee back to lead Titans after a 22-goal, six-assist junior season.
• Tori Jackson, Lincoln Charter, Sr. – Center midfielder. All-state pick and Pfeiffer signee looks to help Eagles improve even more on their program-best 16-win season last year.
• Hannah Wolter, Davidson Day, So. – Forward. Patriots’ standout forward has started since she was a seventh-grader, including on three straight state championship teams, and now has to step into a leading role for Coach Chad Metzler.
Story went to print before Lake Norman Charter games against North Meck (Feb. 27) and Hopewell (March 4). Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at email@example.com.
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