High School Sports

Providence falls to Cary Panther Creek in NCHSAA 4A girls’ soccer final

Justine James (second from left) of Panther Creek celebrates the second goal of the N.C. 4A championship along with her teammates, Briana Velasquez (right) and Brittany Matsinger (second from right) and Sarah Barnes (right). Panther Creek beat Providence 2-0 Saturday at N.C. State.
Justine James (second from left) of Panther Creek celebrates the second goal of the N.C. 4A championship along with her teammates, Briana Velasquez (right) and Brittany Matsinger (second from right) and Sarah Barnes (right). Panther Creek beat Providence 2-0 Saturday at N.C. State. newsobserver.com

Providence High’s soccer team arrived in Saturday’s N.C. 4A state championship, its first since 2006, led by a powerhouse defense that had allowed five goals in 25 games and an offense that had scored 123 times.

But nationally ranked Cary Panther Creek negated all of Providence’s strengths in a dominant 2-0 win at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Stadium.

Panther Creek, which lost to Hough in the 2014 final, outshot Providence 11-4, and the Catamounts so thoroughly dominated possesion that goalie Celeste Barnard only had two saves.

“Yeah,” Providence coach Nathan Williams said, “they were better than us today. I’m not sure why it was. It’s always a daunting task when you’re entering something like this, that you’ve never been a part of, when they were here last year and knew what it was about.”

Providence (23-2-1), ranked No. 2 in the N.C. 4A coaches poll and No. 9 nationally by Top Drawer Soccer, appeared nervous from the start. And Panther Creek (20-0-2), No. 1 in the state and No. 5 nationally, continually pushed that ball at the Providence goal. The Catamounts, who appeared a step quicker, controlled possession and got some good early opportunities, though they were from distance.

With 11 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first half, sophomore Meredith Hamby scored from well outside the box. Entering the game, Hamby – named championship MVP – had scored one goal all season and was credited with just six shots in her first 21 games.

Providence got two good looks in the first half. One was wide and the other tapped the top of the crossbar, as Williams watched leaning hard to his right to urge the ball to drop.

But other than that, Providence didn’t put together much consistent offense against a team that allowed six goals all season. And with 15:29 to play in the second half, senior Justine James banged in another long distance goal off a pass from Brianna Velasquez.

“We just didn’t play very well,” Williams said. “Players who have been absolutely epic for us throughout the season had a difficult time getting going today. Sooner or later in 26 games, that happens, with everyone not playing to their full potential. But for us to give up two goals from distance is a little bit disappointing. But that’s how it goes in those games.”

Williams, hired a few months before the season, led the Panthers to their fourth state final.

Mecklenburg County teams have now qualified for the past eight N.C. 4A championships. Ardrey Kell reached the finals in 2008, 2009 and 2011. North Meck won the 2010 title, and Hough appeared in three straight finals from 2012-14, winning two.

With just six seniors among their 24 players, Williams and Providence will be among the favorites to return in 2016.

Moments after Saturday’s final, though, Williams wasn’t ready to look ahead to next season. He wanted to thank this year’s players for what he called their “magnificent effort.”

“It’s been incredible,” he said. “It’s all on the girls and not me. They’re the ones that work hard every day and play the games. I couldn’t be more proud of them than I am. I just wish we could’ve won.”

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