With six minutes, 30 seconds left in the N.C. 4A state semifinal soccer match against Myers Park on Tuesday, Hough High girls soccer star Courtney Carroll got very angry. And very determined.
The Mustangs scored to take a 1-0 lead in a tense game among arch rivals. This was the second straight season the teams had played for the right to go to the state championship. Myers Park scored and celebrated, thinking this might be enough to beat Hough for the first time in school history. It was only the second time in 26 games this season that unbeaten Hough had trailed an opponent. Carroll, an 18-year-old senior, watched the Mustangs celebration and she kept thinking this wasnt the way she wanted her high school career to end, one game short of the goal.
I was (ticked) off, said Carroll, whose team plays unbeaten Panther Creek on Saturday for the N.C. 4A state title. I wasnt ready for it to be over. I wouldnt be satisfied.
Carroll decided she would take the ensuing possession after the Myers Park score and try to even the game. No waiting. Her mother has nicknamed Carroll Bull In A China Shop because of her will and determination and her slightly nasty streak on the field. And Carroll took the ball and weaved through several Mustangs defenders. She fully intended to take the shot, but was fouled, taken down as she got into range of the Mustangs goal. Anna Roach converted the penalty kick that tied the game. Alex Dennys header into the net with 74 seconds left in overtime provided Hough a 2-1 win and a Mecklenburg County 4A girls record third straight state finals appearance.
Hough coach David Smith said without Carrolls aggression, maybe none of it happens.
She has a great drive, Smith said. She has that it quality that you want to have in a player. Shes not afraid of the moment and taking things on and being a leader. Thats something thats helped her have such an outstanding season and career.
Carroll plays midfield for Hough. Whereas most teams top scorers are forwards, playing much closer to the opponents goal, Carroll has scored a team-high 28 goals and gathered a team-high 21 assists from a position where those kinds of numbers are rather unusual.
Smith said that Carroll, committed to Mississippi, is a rather unusual player.
Shes got great speed and great touch, he said. Shes very strong. She can adapt to whatever she needs to adapt to, up and down the field, or a physical game. If she needs to, shell outsmart you. She has a little bit of everything which is one of the reasons shes such an outstanding player. To have almost 30 goals and more than 20 assists out of the midfield is pretty special. Most midfielders are facilitators and distributors. She does that, too, but she has a knack for scoring.
As a team, Hough has 125 goals and 20 shutouts. Denny has 19 goals and nine assists, Roach has 12 goals, Sarah Moon has 11 and Brooke Sawyer and Emmily Cowie have 10 each. Nicole Duncan has 18 assists and Ashley Johnson has 13.
That type of balance is one reason why Hough is averaging five goals per game and is 93-7-4 all time in school history. Hough won the 2012 state championship and finished ranked No. 2 in the National Soccer Coaches Association. In 2013, Hough returned to the state finals, but lost.
Now, after the come-from-behind win against Myers Park, and Carrolls heroics, Hough is back in the Big Game again.
Each season is its own journey, Smith said, and it really kind of hit me that were going back after the Myers Park game. The good thing is were not going to get caught up in the moment or the fanfare. Things are different at the state championship. That part will be easier to deal with, but the game itself is still the focus. And its not old hat for us. Its an honor to play a game like this and something you want to take advantage of.
Carroll, like her coach, feels the same way.
This team is special, she said, because all of us are willing to work for each other, which is really important. At this level, every team is good and every player is good. It comes down to who wants it more, who has more desire. For us to want to get back to this game and want this for each other, that gives us that extra push.
For college, Carroll choose Mississippi over Davidson, Stanford, Alabama and Arkansas. She carries a 4.5 GPA while taking honors and advanced placement courses in subjects like European history and French. Carrolls iPhone has music from people like classic soul singer Otis Redding and new British band Cherub. And she absolutely loves the TV show Scandal on ABC.
She also loves her chance to go out a champion Saturday.
After having the two previous years (state finals) experience, I can definitely say Im hungry for it because Ive experienced a win and a loss, she said. The win feels a lot better. After last years experience, that makes me want to prove myself because I know I have more and we have more in us to get the better outcome.
Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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