By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — All things come to an end at some point. For No. 2 seeded Watauga women’s soccer in the NCHSAA 4A West state playoffs bracket, the season ended sooner than they would have liked with a 2-0 upset at the hands of No. 18 Cox Mill at Jack Groce Stadium on May 18.
Bonus Photos at bottom of article
Despite the outcome not favoring the large local contingent of fans in the grandstands, it was one of the most entertaining women’s soccer matches of the year, featuring skillful, fit, athletic and well-coached players on both sides. It was fast-paced, momentum often turning on a dime. Blink, and you missed the ball being sent in the opposite direction.
It was also a highly physical affair, the referee “letting the girls play” with a lot of pushing and shoving for which the Pioneers weren’t quite ready.
Although Watauga dominated possession in the first half, Cox Mill was first on the scoreboard with a penalty kick by senior Skylar Noll, the ball scooting along the ground just beyond the outstretched hands of the diving Watauga goalkeeper, freshman Rylee Mitchell. The PK was awarded on an inadvertent “hand ball” inside the penalty box.
Noll also got the second Chargers goal as time was expiring in the game’s second half on a free kick the looped into the upper right corner of the net.
Much of the Cox Mill success in this soccer match must be credited to junior goalkeeper Reese Dejong, who made several acrobatic saves to turn back the Pioneers’ offensive barrage. Watauga produced a whopping 15 shots on goal, none able to make it by the athletic Dejong.
“We held possession more than 50 percent of the time,” said Pioneer junior center forward Katie Durham, after the match. “We attacked, but could not buy a goal. Their goalie was very good.”
“It was incredibly fast-paced,” said Watauga head coach Chris Tarnowski in reflecting on the match. “Both teams could move the ball up and down the field quickly. The 4A playoffs are no joke… Cox Mill is extremely athletic and they love to play in the air. This was a fairly even battle. We had a lot of good opportunities but credit their goalkeeper for making some of the most acrobatic saves I have seen in a long time. We have had an incredible season but, like I told our players, in the playoffs only one team gets to end their season on a win. Eventually, all of the good things have to come to an end.”
With the win, Cox Mill advances to the third round where they will meet the No. 7 seed in the 4A West bracket, Hough, which defeated No. 10 Cuthbertson, 2-1.
Watauga completed its season with a 15-3-1 record overall, 9-0-1 in Northwestern Conference play.
All photographic images by David Rogers