Battle for control of the ball

Watauga defender Kat Horne (5) battles for possession of the ball with Northern Guilford’s Ellie Grove.

GREENSBORO — The Watauga girls’ soccer team faced a Northern Guilford defense that gave up just seven goals in 20 games this season.

By the time the two teams finished their third round 3-A Western Regional game played at Northern Guilford May 15, the Nighthawks still had given up just seven goals.

Northern Guilford scored two first-half goals, which was enough to give the Nighthawks a 2-0 victory over visiting Watauga. The Pioneers’ season ended with a 17-5 record, while Northern Guilford improved to 19-1-1. The Nighthawks face top seeded Marvin Ridge in the fourth round.

Watauga’s season ends with a 17-5 record. The Pioneers’ 13-1 Northwestern Conference record earned them a co-league championship with Hickory, and the Pioneers won a 1-0 playoff game against Weddington and posted a 3-1 second-round win at Kings Mountain.

Seniors Mary Louise Sprague, Sadye Franklyn, Katherine Horne, Jo Hill, Lindsey Fletcher, Lilly Kamp and Cailey Haas played their final game. Head coach Chris Tarnowski was proud and thankful for their contributions to the program.

“I can’t say enough about our senior class,” Tarnowski said. “They’ve won three conference championships and have made the playoffs every year. That senior class is the backbone of what we want this program to be going forward.”

The Northern Guilford defense kept the Watauga offense from getting too close to Nighthawks’ goal by combining their outstanding speed with good marking ability of Watauga’s top scorers Lily Suyao, Bailey Whitehead-Price, Brelyn Sturgill and Shaelyn Sheaff.

“Their goalie and defenders are all seniors,” Tarnowski said. “They’ve got a real veteran group. They’ve allowed seven goals all year, they’re fast and they’re physical. They just came in and played a perfect game again.”

Northern Guilford has outscored its three playoff opponents by a combined score of 7-0. In the regular season, Northern Gilford gave up two goals to Western Alamance in a 5-2 win May 1 and beat Grimsley 3-1 May 3 seven games before the playoffs started. Before those two games, Northern Guilford won its previous games by a combined score of 40-0 during a seven-game winning streak.

“They were really fast and they were really organized,” Whitehead-Price said. “They definitely had a really good defensive mid dropping back a lot and helping back there.”

Northern Guilford lost its first game of the season 3-1 to Greensboro Page and is on a 20-game streak without losing.

“The defense has been playing well all year,” Northern Guilford Frank Tamborino said. “We haven’t lost a game since Feb. 28 and that’s in part because our defense has been real stingy. They’re physical and they’re big and even my little mid there (Logan Jenkins). She’s 5-foot-nothing but she plays big. She’s a good player and she happens to be the conference player of the year.”

Northern Guilford’s offense scored all the goals the Nighthawks needed midway through the first half. Hayley Magnussen scored the first goal of the game. After getting a pass to the middle of the Watauga defense, her first shot was blocked by Haas, Watauga’s goalkeeper.

Magnussen got her own rebound and put it back in the net to give the Nighthawks a 1-0 lead. Ellie Grove scored Northern Guilford’s second goal, putting Nighthawks a 2-0 lead.

Northern Guilford had two near-misses early in the second half. One Nighthawks shot got past Haas, but hit the crossbar of the goal and bounced out. Haas got a fist on another shot, which hit the corner of the crossbar and the right post before bouncing away

Watauga also had a header shot from a corner kick in the second half that bounced off the crossbar. Another Watauga corner kick with 12:49 left in the game was headed over the Nighthawks’ goal.

“It’s like I told the girls after the game; we didn’t play a slouch,” Tarnowski said. “It’s certainly not the end goal that we were looking at, but we definitely have a lot to be proud of this year.”

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