Cary, N.C. — When 110 minutes of soccer weren’t enough and Cardinal Gibbons and Ardrey Kell headed to spot kicks to decide the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state championship on Saturday, the Crusaders were fully confident in Rhian Lawrence.
Lawrence, the junior basketball player turned midseason starting goalkeeper. Lawrence, the saver of a penalty kick in three straight games earlier on during Gibbons’ postseason run.
As has been the case for a while now, Lawrence rose to the occasion and made two massive saves as Gibbons topped Ardrey Kell 4-2 on spot kicks following a 1-1 draw to claim its third girls soccer state title in program history and the first at the 4A level.
As a result of her heroics, Lawrence took home most valuable player honors.
“My coach told me just to guess, and if I go the right way, I go the right way,” said Lawrence, who denied Ardrey Kell’s Ellie Riechman and Ellie Newman. “But I started to look in their eyes and they would look to one side, and I noticed that they would always go to the other side.”
The championship was the final chapter of an unlikely playoff run for the No. 23 seed Crusaders that included victories over teams seeded third (Chapel Hill), first (Hoggard) and second (Ardrey Kell).
Six of Gibbons’ 16 wins on the season (16-6-2) came during postseason play, and the Crusaders were under .500 as recently as April 25 before closing the year on an 11-game winning streak.
“We had some tough losses at the beginning of the season,” Gibbons head coach Brian Morgan said, “and I think they played a huge role in how they’ve been able to deal with adversity and tough moments in the playoffs. It’s been awesome to see them persevere and overcome some challenges and get a state championship.”
Ardrey Kell, the 4A runner-up in 2008, 2009 and 2011, was appearing in its fourth state title game. The Knights ended the year at 25-2-1.
Early on in the first half, both teams had stretches when they put the opponent under duress in the 18-yard box, and Gibbons had a good look at goal in the 10th minute when sophomore forward Nya Folk put an effort on target.
By the time the halftime whistle blew, Ardrey Kell had a better argument as the side closest to scoring thanks to a pair of stellar efforts from junior defender Kayley Newman. In the 22nd minute, Newman came away with possession off of a throw-in and opened herself up into a shot that looked goal-bound and headed for the upper right corner until Gibbons’ Lawrence timed her jump perfectly, tipping the shot onto the crossbar.
Newman once again came tantalizingly close to opening the scoring right before the break in the 38th minute. In a similar position as her last shot, Newman, from beyond the area, unleashed a low-to-ground shot that glanced off the bottom of the right post.
But regardless of the Knights’ near-goals, the second half began with nothing separating the two sides. As the second half progressed, both the Knights and Crusaders took turns putting the other under pressure but largely made nothing of it in the final third.
With nothing separating the two teams and both sides struggling to break down the opposing backline, Gibbons midfielder Lily Pryzwansky took matters into her hands and opened the scoring in the 67th minute on a goal seemingly out of nothing.
Collecting an Ardrey Kell clearance, Pryzwansky had time to take a few touches and then let loose on a perfectly lofted shot that flew into the back of the net, entering just under the crossbar. The trajectory on the shot rendered Ardrey Kell goalkeeper Emily Casey helpless, despite her effort at a save.
But Ardrey Kell remained composed and continued to get up the pitch as the clock ticked on its season. In the 79th minute, the Knights’ persistence was rewarded. Fed a ball from the left flank, sophomore forward Taylor Suarez poked home a shot from close range for her team-leading 18th goal of the season, none bigger than this one.
Neither side truly threatened in the 30 minutes’ worth of overtime action, although Suarez put a pair of shots on frame that Lawrence handled.
When it was time for spot kicks to decide the title, the Crusaders remained composed. Pryzwansky, Sydney Hennesen, Hailey Juhasz and Lauren Doyle each made their kicks for the Crusaders, who got major help from Lawrence.
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