Cary, North Carolina –When 110 minutes of football wasn’t enough and Cardinal Gibbons and Ardrey Kell headed for kicks to decide the NC High School Athletic Association 4A State Championship on Saturday, the Crusaders had full faith in Rhian Lawrence.
Lawrence, the junior basketball player turned starting goaltender mid-season. Lawrence, sparing him from a penalty in three straight games earlier in the Gibbons playoff.
As has been the case for some time now, Lawrence rose to the occasion and made two massive saves as Gibbons beat Ardrey Kell 4-2 on kicks after a 1-1 draw to claim his third title of State Women’s Soccer in program history and the first at the 4A level.
As a result of his heroics, Lawrence earned Most Valuable Player honors.
“My coach just told me to guess, and if I’m going the right way, I’m going the right way,” said Lawrence, who denied Ardrey Kell’s Ellie Riechman and Ellie Newman. “But I started looking them in the eye and they were looking to one side, and I noticed they were always going to the other side.”
The championship was the latest chapter in an unlikely playoff run for the No. 23-seeded Crusaders that included victories over third (Chapel Hill), first (Hoggard) and second (Ardrey Kell) seeded teams.
Six of Gibbons’ 16 wins during the season (16-6-2) have come in the playoffs, and the Crusaders were below .500 as recently as April 25 before closing the year on a streak of 11 consecutive wins.
“We had some tough losses early in the season,” said Gibbons head coach Brian Morgan, “and I think they played a huge role in how they were able to cope. adversity and tough times in the playoffs. It was great to see them persevere and overcome some challenges and get a state championship.
Ardrey Kell, the 4A finalist in 2008, 2009 and 2011, was appearing in his fourth state title match. The Knights finished the year with a 25-2-1 record.
At the start of the first half, both teams had stretches as they put the opposition under duress in the 18-yard box, and Gibbons had a good look at goal in the 10th minute when the sophomore forward Nya Folk put an effort on target.
By the time the half-time whistle sounded, Ardrey Kell had a better case as the team closest to goal thanks to a pair of stellar efforts from junior defender Kayley Newman. In the 22nd minute, Newman came away with possession from a throw-in and opened up with a shot that seemed goal-bound and headed to the top right corner until Gibbons’ Lawrence of Gibbons timed his perfectly. jump, tipping the shot over the crossbar. .
Newman once again came close to opening the scoring just before the break in the 38th minute. In a similar position to his last shot, Newman from across the box fired a low shot to the ground that emerged from the bottom of the right post.
But regardless of the Knights’ near-goals, the second half started with nothing separating the two teams. As the second half wore on, the Knights and Crusaders alternately put pressure on each other, but did nothing in the final third.
With nothing separating the two teams and both teams struggling to break the opposing backline, Gibbons midfielder Lily Pryzwansky took matters into her own hands and opened the scoring in the 67th minute on a seemingly dropped goal You’re welcome.
Collecting a clearance from Ardrey Kell, Pryzwansky had time to take a few touches and then go wild on a perfectly smooth shot that flew into the back of the net, entering just under the crossbar. The trajectory on the shot left Ardrey Kell goalkeeper Emily Casey helpless, despite her efforts for a save.
But Ardrey Kell remained calm and continued to step up the pitch as time ticked away for his season. In the 79th minute, the Knights’ perseverance was rewarded. Fed with a through ball from the left flank, sophomore forward Taylor Suarez fired a shot from close range for her team-leading 18th goal of the season, none bigger than this.
Neither team really threatened in the 30 minutes of extra time, although Suarez put a pair of shots on the frame which Lawrence managed.
When it was time for point kicks to decide the title, the Crusaders remained calm. Pryzwansky, Sydney Hennesen, Hailey Juhasz and Lauren Doyle each kicked for the Crusaders, who got a major assist from Lawrence.