High School Sports

Providence High’s girls’ soccer team climbs to No. 1 in USA Today’s national poll

Sophomore Mady Ellis, left, junior Molly McGarry and senior Jenn Simons are members of Providence High girls’ soccer team, ranked No. 1 in USA Today’s national poll.
Sophomore Mady Ellis, left, junior Molly McGarry and senior Jenn Simons are members of Providence High girls’ soccer team, ranked No. 1 in USA Today’s national poll. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Providence High’s girls’ soccer team is ranked No. 1 in the nation, and the Panthers are on a roll.

On Tuesday, Providence defeated rival Ardrey Kell 1-0. Following are highlights from this season, achieved before Tuesday’s match against Ardrey Kell:

▪ Providence (14-0-1) had outscored teams 82-4.

▪  Offense was led by three double-figure scorers: sophomore Mady Ellis (15 goals, 10 assists), senior Jenn Simons (11 goals, four assists) and junior Molly McGarry (13 goals, five assists).

▪ The Panthers had shut out nine of their previous 10 opponents, outscoring them by a combined 64-1.

Because of its success, Providence jumped this week from No. 3 to No. 1 in USA Today’s national poll, rare air for a Mecklenburg County team in any sport.

“They’re very good,” said Hough coach David Smith, a two-time state champion. “They’re good going forward putting pressure on you, but one of the keys is how well they defend. That’s probably lost when it’s 9-0 against some teams, but when teams are close in talent level, that is a difference for them right now – just how well they defend.”

When Hough lost 3-1 to Providence to start the season March 1, Smith said he thought that the Panthers had the makings of a special team. And Smith certainly knows what a powerhouse girls’ soccer team looks like.

He led Hough to three straight state championship games from 2012 to 2014. The Huskies lost in 2013, but won the other two years. In 2012, Hough was named ESPN soccer poll national champion. In 2014, the Huskies won the National Soccer Coaches Association poll title.

No local team had climbed to the top of national soccer polls since then. And at Providence, where the baseball team is ranked as high as No. 5 nationally, it’s been a fun spring.

“The team is better than I thought they were going to be, full stop,” said second-year soccer coach Nathan Williams, whose Panthers tied Weddington 1-1 on March 11. “Losing some of the seniors we lost, who had contributed in so many areas, I didn’t know what to expect. But the group is finding a way, through its competitive nature, to continue to win. We have a great deal of depth and can rest players.”

But Williams and the Panthers said their ultimate goal isn’t being on top of the rankings now. They want to be there at the end of the season.

Providence lost 2-0 to Cary’s Panther Creek High in the 2015 state final. Six seniors graduated from that team, but Providence is determined to return to the finals – and change the ending this time.

“It was a very sad moment last year,” Ellis said. “We made it to the last game and couldn’t pull it off. We have a bigger desire to get back. We had a good team last year and I wouldn’t say it’s a better team this year, but we have a lot of good players. Our season has not been a huge surprise.”

Ellis’ sister, Lauren, is a Louisville recruit who anchors the back of the Panthers’ defense. Goalies Lizzie Wilson, a senior, and freshman Lizah Pistorio have combined for 10 shutouts. Providence allowed seven goals last season and is on pace for about the same this season. Ellis and coach Williams believe that’s the formula to winning a title.

“We’re very fortunate,” Williams said. “We have lots and lots of club players and they’re smart kids who understand the game. The club coaches have done a great job teaching. So, for me, organization is everything. If we stay organized, we have a chance to win a lot of games. And we take great pride in the defensive responsibilities of the team.

“We want to make it very difficult for teams to score. We feel that if we don’t give up many goals we’ll get some scoring from our front lines.”

The Panthers have six games left before the playoffs next month, but make no mistake, they are getting mentally focused to make another title run, Williams said.

“We felt like we underachieved in that (2015 state final) game,” Williams said. “I feel like I have a little more experience for what that day will hold and will potentially be better prepared to help us.

“I felt like I blinked when we arrived, and I opened my eyes and the game was over. It happened very fast. I wasn’t prepared for that. I think myself, and my whole team, will be better prepared if we’re fortunate enough to get back.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr