Coming off of a fourth-place Region 5-AAAAA finish last season, but also the graduation of leading scorer Alyssia Lowers, one might expect the Chapel Hill girls soccer team to struggle to reach the state tournament again this year.
While it is true that the Panthers are younger in some areas, they also appear to be better and more experienced. Chapel Hill has the infusion of some young talent to thank for that.
“We have three really good freshmen who are our key players this year,” Panthers coach Katie Wolff said.
Those freshmen are center back Makenna Warren, who scored a goal and assisted on two others in a 3-0 early-season win over McEachern, outside mid Kristin Beasley, and forward Jasmine Linton. Like Warren, Beasley and Linton have already made their mark on the team.
“She is our playmaker on the outside,” Wolff said of Beasley. “She’s good at crossing the ball in or beating the girl on the outside and spotting the ball in for assists. Jasmine Linton, she’s fast. She can beat anybody one-on-one. She’s just got to work on her finishing and get us some goals.”
Wolff credits the fact that the young players have played a lot of Elite Clubs National League and club soccer before entering high school as a reason for their instant success.
“They’re talking,” Wolff said. “They’re aggressive. They know to move on and off the ball. They’re definitely a lot better team than we’ve had the last couple of years. I feel like they all have played soccer so much, some of them have played together on teams, they know the game of soccer. They know what to do. They know how to move on the ball, off the ball. They know how to make runs.”
In addition to the freshmen, Chapel Hill’s standout freshman from a season ago, Brandi Peterson, is back for her sophomore season.
“Brandi is the center of our midfield,” Wolff said. “She is a playmaker. She is always running up, she’s always coming back to play defense. Brandi puts whatever body part she can into the ball to win it. She takes girls on one-on-one. She’s able to create a lot of the plays through the middle of the field.”
Peterson scored five goals over the Panthers’ first three games of the season. She was tied for second on the team in goals a season ago with the 10, but that was way behind Lowers’ 23. Wolff expects to see more balanced-scoring this year.
“This year we don’t have just one key player,” Wolff said comparing this season to 2015. “We could only play through one person that we knew was going to score. This year I feel like we have so many different people who can do the job Alyssia did. […]. We have a lot more offense this year just because of the experience that some of these girls bring.”
Chapel Hill’s offense looks explosive, but its defense also appears to be topnotch. A big reason for that is the play and presence of senior goalkeeper Taylor Sorrows.
“She’s a phenomenal goalkeeper,” Wolff said. “She had 12 shots on her against McEachern and she didn’t let any in. She’s a big part of our defense. She’s able to see the whole field, so she’s the one who talk to the defenders. […]. She’s such a great leader in the back of the field.”
Wolff and her team are excited and expect to challenge for region and county titles this season.
“I definitely think with the experience that we have, with the freshmen coming in, we are looking at having a very successful season and winning most of our games if not all of them,” she said.