GHSA Girls Soccer

Northgate takes 'Rhoad' back to Final Four

by Doug Gorman

MARIETTA — The Northgate Lady Vikings soccer team is doing something next week that they haven’t experienced in four years — heading to the Final Four.

Thanks to a 1-0 victory at Pope High School, the program joins three Fayette schools from Area 4-AAAAA to monopolize this year’s Final Four in the Class AAAAA Tournament.

With the victory, the Lady Vikings will meet Area 4-AAAAA rival and 2012 Class AAAA champion McIntosh in Peachtree City next week. The Lady Chiefs advanced with a 3-0 win over Northview.

It also gives seniors Micayla Crenshaw and Hannah Murray a chance to close out their careers with a state title.

“I am so excited, especially for my two seniors,” said Northgate head coach Bryan Hicks, who was in his first season when the Lady Vikings reached the 2010 Class AAAA semifinals. ”They were my first group through. We made it to the Final Four when they were freshman and haven’t been back since then. Hopefully this time we will have a different result.”

Four years ago, the Lady Vikings fell to Whitewater in the semifinals. The Lady Wildcats have made the state semifinals each of the last four seasons, advancing to the Class AAAA finals three consecutive years.

Whitewater, which crushed Allatoona 12-2 to advance, will host Starr’s Mill in the other Class AAAAA semifinal. The Lady Panthers shut out Riverwood 2-0 on the road.

Crenshaw wants to end her career on a high note.

“We haven’t been there since we were freshman, so this is really exciting,” she said.

Northgate grabbed an early goal when Cara Rhoad banged a rebound through the back of the Lady Greyhounds’ net less than nine minutes into the contest.

“Getting the quick goal took a lot of pressure off of us,” Northgate head coach Bryan Hicks said. “Then we are not in that panic mode.”

“When you travel around and talk to different coaches, they will tell you we play in the toughest region in the state. They say we are from the region of death and it’s true,” Hicks said.

Murray expects another physical game with McIntosh.

“I think we benefit from playing in such a tough region because it is so physical,” she said. “I think when we play teams outside the region, they aren’t used to that or the speed.”

With Northgate clinging to a 1-0 lead in the game, the Lady Greyhounds made a couple of late rushes on net, but the Lady Vikings’ defense was able to come up with a couple of big stops.

Goalkeeper Mattea Lewis preserved the victory late in the game with her final save with just over 30 seconds left.

The Lady Vikings kept the pressure on the Lady Greyhounds goal in the first half.

Northgate nearly increased the lead to 2-0 just five minutes after Rhoad’s tally when Crenshaw crossed the ball over to Lily Barron who just missed a shot.

Crenshaw and Rhoad delivered hard shots on net right before the end of the first half, but they were turned away.

Throughout the game, Northgate didn’t let the Lady Greyhounds get many opportunities to penetrate the defense, pleasing its head coach.

“They (our defense) are rough and in your face,” he said. “We don’t give up many goals, people have to earn goals against us and lately we have been successful.”

Brittany DeLoach, Ashley Keller and Katie Mitchell frustrated the Lady Greyhounds’ offensive hopes throughout the night. Dallas Weaver also gave the Lady Vikings some valuable minutes in the back coming off the bench.

The two teams spent most of the first half at the Lady Greyhounds’ ends of the net. The Lady Vikings ended the first half setting up four corner kicks.

Mitchell had a couple of nice corners put right at the Lady Greyhounds net, but Pope was able to keep the Lady Vikings from finishing off the play.

Northgate came out determined to put the game away early in the second half when it nearly converted a header and a shot by DeLoach. Barron’s opportunity to add insurance fell by the way halfway through the second half when the Lady Greyhound defense stopped an open-goal chance.

“I feel like we had some really good chances that we should have converted on,” Hicks said. “So that early goal really helped us keep control. But we were able to play our game and get through some of those missed chances.”

The Northgate coach was able to substitute freely throughout the game and keeping fresh players in the contest benefitted the Lady Vikings and their keeper down the stretch.

“We made everything easy for [Mattea] Lewis tonight and that’s what we try to do,” he said. “But she did a great job back there.”

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