Lake Norman & Mooresville

Losing key player motivates Patriots

The Davidson Day girls' soccer team had every reason to give up.

Down 1-0 just 15 minutes into their NCISAA 1A state semifinal game against Community Christian, the nation's leading scorer, all-state senior Brianna Wills, went down with a broken fibula, tibia and a dislocated ankle when she and the Cyclones' goalkeeper collided.

As the Community Christian team and crowd celebrated a key save, sophomore midfielder Caitlyn Rodrigues watched with a few tears coming down her face for her injured teammate, who was coming off scoring her 77th goal that broke the state single-season goals record.

"When Bri went down, they kept cheering for the play (their keeper) had made," said Rodrigues. "I got emotional for a minute, but then I felt like they were laughing in our face. I knew then that we had to step up. We had to show that we could win it all for Bri - with or without her."

About 10 minutes later, Rodrigues followed up on her promise, striking a free-kick into the back of net to tie the game going into the half.

"We could have folded up shop because we had our excuse, we lost our top scorer," said Davidson Day coach Chad Metzler. "But instead, we used it as motivation. We had to re-invent ourselves quickly."

In the second half, Davidson Day was forced to use more of a team approach, not depending on the always potent Wills to use her skill and speed to light up the scoreboard.

The Patriots struck again when all-state freshman forward Max Foster scored to give her team a 2-1 advantage. Sophomore midfield Maddy Clark finished off the game with another score in the final minutes of the game to give Davidson Day a 3-1 win and a berth in the state championship.

"In a bizarre way, Bri's injury completely turned that game around," said Metzler. "The next 20 minutes of that game made our season."

The next night, the Patriots came out strong against Shannon Forest in the final game, scoring two early goals to steal the momentum.

Shannon Forest responded with a goal of their own late in the first half, but the Patriots would have none of it.

Davidson Day scored two quick goals in the first two minutes of the second to put the game away. The Patriots ended the night with a 5-2 win and Davidson Day's first state team title in school history.

"It was definitely our goal to win a state championship," said Metzler. "But a lot of great teams don't win the title for one reason or another. It didn't happen exactly the way we wanted it to, but in the end we really pulled together and won this as a team."

Foster netted two goals in the final, while Clark, seventh-grader Hannah Walters and eighth-grader Rachel Bringewatt notched a score each.

While the offense was strong all year, the defense was suffocating in the playoffs, allowing just three goals in four postseason games. The defensive unit was led by central backs Katie Leonard and Ciara Murphy.

Rodrigues is proud of her Patriots' state title and is already looking ahead.

"We definitely want some more championships and I think we have the talent to do it," she said.