Lake Norman & Mooresville

Huskies, Wildcats meet with conference title on the line

The Lake Norman and Hough girls' soccer teams have only played once in the short history of schools' rivalry.

But game two of the Wildcats-Huskies series will be one of the most significant matches of the season as the two teams square off with the I-Meck regular season conference title at stake.

Lake Norman won the first meeting March 29, beating Hough 1-0.

But the stakes are a lot higher and the intensity is sure to match it.

"I don't think there is anything coach (David)Smith or I need to say to our teams to add any extra motivation," said Lake Norman coach Jon Mertes. "The conference title, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and home-field advantage are at stake. Obviously, all of those things are huge."

While Hough is a first-year team, they don't play like it. The Huskies have losses to only unbeaten Ardrey Kell, Lake Norman and Clover (S.C.) this season. Hough has won seven straight since losing to the Wildcats

"We like the fact that we control our own destiny," said Hough coach David Smith. "This is where we wanted to be. It's very exciting to be in this position in our first-year as a program."

It doesn't get much better than this with a I-Meck championship on the line. There should be a playoff-type intensity to surround what could be one of the best games of the year in the entire state.

Lake Norman

Lake Norman won its first 13 games of the season and has been dominant for most of the year, outscoring its opponents 84-8 so far.

The Wildcats lost to Hopewell 4-3 April 12, exposing some weaknesses in their game.

While Mertes and his team never want to lose, the game might have been a blessing in disguise.

"You always hate to lose a game," said Mertes. "But I think that loss did us a lot of good. We weren't playing well and I think it finally woke us up. I think we'll be a better team for it."

Lake Norman has also gotten healthy with their complete starting lineup back for the first time since early March. The offense has been potent with forwards Kendall Fischlein, Kelsey Palmer and Courtney Reilly forming a dynamic trio up top.

Fischlein, a sophomore, leads the team in both goals (18) and assists (12), with central midfielder, and the team's top offensive player, Taylor Waters right behind her with 16 goals and 11 assists. Attacking midfielder Megan Curran has also played well of late after being nagged by an ankle injury.

In the end, Lake Norman's success will likely come down to their defense, which has been stout all year giving up less than a goal per game. Sophomore defender Jenna Weston has stepped with the loss of Sydney Foushee (ACL) with classmate, goalkeeper Rachel Harrill also playing well in her first full year as a starter.

Lake Norman wants the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage badly, but will have to earn it with a win or a tie against a talented Hough squad.

Hough

Like Lake Norman, Hough has rolled through most of its schedule, earning a top 10 spot in the state rankings.

But the Huskies have yet to get their signature win this season over an elite opponent like the Wildcats.

Smith and his team would like nothing better than to get that win now and to claim the I-Meck title.

All-state junior goalkeeper Emily Rusk will be a major key as she attempts to keep one of the state's best offensive teams, in Lake Norman, out of the goal. Rusk's ability to make game-changing saves could be the difference.

While the Hough defense is a huge factor, the Huskies also need to put the ball in the net. How often forwards Allison Stearns (18 goals, eight assists) and Brandi Arey can create opportunities and put pressure on the Wildcats could be big.

Central midfielder Hannah Robinson is like a "coach on the field" and is playing as good as anyone on the team, according to Smith.

Hough has the core of a North Meck team that won the 4A state championship, including Stearns, Robinson and Rusk, so they know how to play in big games.

While winning on the road at Lake Norman will be a tall task, the Huskies have the talent and experience to do it..

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