Lake Norman & Mooresville

Storybook ending: North Meck takes game for the ages

Two overtimes, two sudden deaths and two rounds of penalty kicks.

The N.C. 4A girls' state championship match brought drama and suspense for North Mecklenburg High's girls' soccer team.

"That was one of the most highly competitive games I've seen in high school (soccer)," North Meck soccer coach Neil Roberts said. "I think two well-prepared teams met, who deserved to be there (in the state final), and the rest speaks for itself."

While it's hard to put the game itself into words, North Meck sophomore goalkeeper Emily Rusk came up with the decisive play of the game, when she deflected Hoggard's Blythe Rhodes' penalty kick in the sudden death round of free kicks. Then, the Vikings' Lisa Myers, North Meck's eighth shooter, ended it for good when she netted her penalty kick.

Rusk, named the game's most valuable player, made just another great play after 13 shutouts this season.

"(Emily) has been phenomenal all year long, so it didn't surprise me," Roberts said. "But, it was great to see her play so big, in the biggest game of the year. That is what every player wants to do."

While the state championship game was one that no one will ever forget, North Meck's run to the final game was equally as impressive. The Vikings outscored their six playoff opponents 18-3, including victories over No. 9 Lake Norman (5-1), No. 7 T.C. Roberson (1-0), No. 4 East Forsyth (5-0) and No. 2 and previously unbeaten Hoggard (2-1) along the way.

"We played the toughest schedule in the state for a reason," Roberts said. "Then, we probably had the toughest road of anybody in the playoffs. But we responded to every challenge, all year. I think that made us a very tough team to beat in the end."

As always, defense was key. The Vikings' back five, including Rusk, Tara Zartman, Erin McNaulty, Lindsey Byrne and Megan Sullivan, allowed just three goals in the playoffs and 10 in the regular season.

The offense was also solid, as all-state sophomore forward Alison Stearns led the team in scoring, and Morgan Byrne (Lindsey's twin sister), Katherine Rusk (Emily's older sister) and Emily Archer were big contributors

"This is certainly a game and a year that I won't forget," Roberts said. "But, I am really happy for our girls, because they really earned this. To see the looks on their faces when we won it all, it was worth all the work we had to put in."