BOONE — The Watauga girls’ soccer team finished its regular season as the Northwestern Conference co-champions.
The next part of the season, the 3-A state playoffs, begins May 7 at Jack Groce Stadium, where Watauga hosts visiting Weddington at 7 p.m.
Watauga goes into the game with a 15-4 overall record, 13-1 in the Northwestern Conference. The Pioneers ended up with a 13th seed in the playoffs, while Weddington earned the 20th-seed with an 8-7-3 record.
That record could be misleading since the Warriors play in a conference that includes top-seeded Marvin Ridge and 10th-seeded Charlotte Catholic. Actually, seven of the eight teams in the Southern Carolina Conference made the playoffs.
“From what we know about Weddington, certainly they play in one of the toughest conferences around,” Watauga coach Chris Tarnowski said. “They’ve got Charlotte Catholic, Marvin Ridge, Sun Valley, so they have a bunch of good athletes. It will be a good match-up for us.”
Weddington, which finished fifth in the SCC with an 8-6 mark, put together wins over conference foes Monroe and Piedmont before losing to Cuthbertson in a shootout to close out its season. Coached by Powell Williams, Weddington offense starts with freshman Emily Floyd, who leads the Warriors with 12 goals.
Weddington also got 10 goals this season from Haley Sanneman.
Watauga counters with a defense led by goalkeeper Cailey Haas and defenders Kat Horne, Jo Hill, Sadye Franklin and Lily Kamp. Tarnowski said the senior-dominated group not only prevents goals, but also sparks the Watauga offense.
“Our whole defensive back line consists of seniors this year, so they’ve played together for a really long time,” Tarnowski said. “They’re kind of the backbone of our team, which allows us to really get forward and play a lot of good offense, because we have confidence in them and our back line.”
When the Pioneers show some offense, chances are either Lily Suyao and Bailey Whitehead-Price are involved. Suyao has scored 28 goals this season, while Whitehead-Price has scored 20. Shaelyn Sheaff and Brelyn Sturgill have joined the act by both scoring 13.
Tarnowski hopes that Watauga’s offense will have an advantage playing on the FieldTurf at Jack Groce Stadium.
“I think it definitely helps us out,” Tarnowski said. “The ball plays a lot differently on turf than it does on grass. It’s a lot faster pace and you can certainly judge it a lot better than on grass. Our girls are used to it. We practice every day on it, so hopefully it will give us a little advantage.”
Tarnowski hopes that the non-league games Watauga’s played against T.C. Roberson and West Forsyth has prepared them for the post-season. He told his team that the Pioneers’ opponents will only get better the farther Watauga advances.
“I think the girls are ready,” Tarnowski said. “We have no small injuries, so we’re healthy. They’re ready for the challenge and the playoffs are always fun.”