South Charlotte

Cougars' youth winning ahead of schedule

It wasn't supposed to happen this year.

After losing more than half the starters from last year's team, Charlotte Catholic girls' soccer coach Gary Hoilett thought the team was at least a year from winning a state championship.

"I always thought we were one of the better programs in the 3A and across the state, regardless of classification," said Hoilett, who has coached at Catholic since 1994. "That's how I honestly feel about Charlotte Catholic's program. But, as you know, you have to actually win it."

The Cougars did win it, beating Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons 2-1 on May 28 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary to win the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state championship. It was the team's third championship, after winning titles in 2002 and 2003, and its first in the 3A classification.

The team thought it would win last year. With eight seniors, Catholic entered the 2010 3A playoffs with no losses and just two ties, but the Cougars lost in the second round 1-0 to Weddington.

"Last year we really thought we had a good chance to go all the way and we were disappointed," said junior goalkeeper Morgan Luckie after this year's title game. "So this year we knew it was going to be tough to get back (and) to try and have that same goal, but we did it."

Seven of the eight seniors from last year's team were starters. Two players, freshmen Lindsey Tully and Cassie Ray, played in this year's championship game after starting the season on the junior varsity team. Tully started every playoff game.

"We did it with a bunch of young players," said Hoilett "We did it with a bunch of players at different spots getting the job done for us."

Hoilett said he was unsure how his young team - especially the defense - would play at the beginning of the year.

"One thing we knew we had was goal scoring," he said. "I always knew we could score, so if we could keep ourselves in the game I always felt like we would be OK."

Sophomore Jane Cline was the key scorer for Cougars, scoring both goals in the championship game against a Cardinal Gibbons team that had given up only five goals all season. Cline finished the season with 24 goals and 11 assists.

The Cougar defense ended up being strong all year, especially in the playoffs. Anchored by Luckie, the Cougars had 12 shutouts in the regular season and only gave up two goals in the playoffs.

"My defense is strong," said Luckie. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without them."

The Cougars scored first in the championship game even though the Crusaders had control of the ball for most of the first 20 minutes. With 20 minutes left in the half, Cline took a pass from Tully at the top of the penalty area and scored low in the left side of the goal.

Cardinal Gibbons evened the score just one minute into the second half with a goal by Christina Gibbons. But Hoilett wasn't worried. He felt his team had played more difficult games leading up to the championship.

"I think we had a more difficult and trying test getting to this game than they did," he said. "Weddington and Marvin Ridge are two very difficult teams to play through, and I think it really tested our character as a team."

The score stayed even for the next 31 minutes until Cline's shot from the right side deflected off Cardinal Gibbons goalie Kristin Twomey and into the net.

"I was tearing up I was so happy," said Luckie about the goal. "I knew we were going to win it then."

Eight minutes later - after Cardinal Gibbons had three corner kicks in the final 1:30 - the Cougars charged the field, hugging each other and celebrating the 2-1 win. They raised the championship trophy high over their heads. Cline was announced as the games' most valuable player.

"I'm, like, overwhelmed. No words to explain what happened," said Cline. "I knew we had it. ... We could hold them off after we scored."

With Cline, Luckie and a large chunk of the starting lineup coming back next year, the Cougars could have it again.