After dominating the first round of All-State Tournament playoffs against Elkin 8-2, the Highlands girls varsity soccer team lost in the second round to undefeated-defending state champs Union Academy in Monroe, N.C. on Saturday 9-0.
“Girls played hard, but Union Academy is the best 1A school I have ever coached against by far and the best team we have played at any level this season by far,” said Head Coach Jeff Weller.
Several of those in attendance at Saturday’s game said Union Academy was the best girls-high school team they have ever seen. Weller said games can be tough when playing against a charter school.
“We are a small school that only draws from our legal geographic area,” he said. “A charter school, especially around Charlotte area, draws from a huge area with significant numbers of people. I can’t recruit players in any way. Charter schools can recruit and control their enrollment. Put simply, charter schools and public schools are not on a level playing field in any way and should not be in the same group when playing in state playoffs.”
Weller added that since he has been coaching, Highlands has only lost to a public school in the state playoffs 1 out of 10 seasons, the remainder have always been charter schools. All that said, Weller couldn’t be prouder of the girls’ effort.
“I would just say that after over 5 hours in an activity bus, the girls played extremely hard against a very strong defending state championship team,” said Weller.
After beating Elkin at home on May 7, Highlands Reese Schmitt said they played the ball to feet, had good passing, and solid communication. Knowing Union Academy was next on the agenda was a bit intimidating.
“I’m a little nervous playing the 2nd round,” said Schmitt. “I feel like we’ll be fine if we settle down and keep passing to feet.”
Highlands Kedra McCall had a rough collision late in the game with an Elkin player and flipped over landing on a previously injured shoulder taking her out of the game. By that point, the win had already been solidified and Highlands was ready to move forward.
“We played incredible,” said McCall. “We stepped it up a little in the second half and turned on the jets. We came into this game knowing they were good, but we know we’re good and just stuck to our game and got it done.”
Highlands Ellen Diehl said the defense worked in sync throughout the game holding Elkin to only two goals.
“Our defense worked as a team and we talked a lot,” said Diehl. “Plus, we really listened to our coaches more and that helped.”
Highlands will lose seniors Betty Garcia and Grace Crowe. Crowe a former goalie turned team-manager, but Weller said next season sans Garcia and Crowe has a lot of potential and he looks forward to adding some new freshman to the roster. Things may a bit smoother the next time around by not having to begin at ground zero, but to build on the successes from the current season and keep building as a team, said Weller.
“We will be a force in our conference next year,” he said. “We will miss Betty on the field and will miss both Betty and Grace on the sidelines. I feel we will be strong next year and are setting our sights on the conference championship and a strong run in the state playoffs next season.”