Lady Vikings net first state soccer title
by CHRIS GOLTERMANN
CARROLLTON — This one was for all the hardship and the years of playing second, third and sometimes fourth fiddle to Fayette County — for every moment Northgate’s girls soccer program felt that their chance to celebrate might never arrive.
It was for alumni, many currently playing in college and some who were watching former teammates take the field for Saturday’s GHSA Class AAAAA championship game.
It may as well have been for every little girl or boy in Coweta County that spends their youth chasing a spotted ball on a grassy field as mom and dad sit and cheer them on.
But most of all, a 4-1 victory over Whitewater for Northgate’s first ever soccer championship was a reward for the Lady Vikings.
Their time finally had arrived.
Playing like champions in Saturday’s Class AAAAA title game, Northgate made a statement in more ways than one to claim this year’s trophy following a 17-3 season that ended with back-to-back wins against its closest and most heated rivals, top-ranked Whitewater and No. 3 McIntosh, both of which had defeated the Lady Vikings during the regular season.
“They put in the time,” said Northgate head coach Bryan Hicks. “All those early mornings, all the hard work. Here’s the result. Here’s the reward.”
Denied in four consecutive finals — the last two to McIntosh — Whitewater was dealt its fifth straight title opportunity in a contest whose outcome may have stunned both sets of fans here at West Georgia’s University Stadium considering the Lady Wildcats had outscored Northgate 17-2 in their previous five meetings since 2010 dating back to a trip to the Class AAAA Final Four.
That all changed on Saturday.
Senior Micayla Crenshaw scored two goals from opposite feet and directions and the Lady Vikings tacked on two more from senior Hannah Murray and freshman Lily Barron over a three-minute span of the second half to help give both Northgate High and Coweta its first-ever GHSA soccer championship, and just the third among varsity teams in county history.
The effort on the field was equally impressive, never trailing against a 19-3-2 Whitewater lineup that shutout Northgate 1-0 during the regular season following a 7-0 blowout in 2012.
And it seemed well worth the effort.
The Lady Vikings asserted themselves at every end of the field, taking advantage of the few opportunities they received up front against a stingy Whitewater defense that kept them pinned outside the 18-yard box for the first 20 minutes of play. After being outshot 5-1 in the first 28 minutes, Crenshaw slipped through off a headed pass from Barron and deposited a left-footed shot past Lady Wildcat keeper Claire Messina just when it looked as if Whitewater was about to get on the scoreboard.
“Once we got that first goal, we got going,” said sophomore Katie Mitchell, who was joined in the starting midfield by junior Taylor Hendrix, freshman Cara Rhoad and Murray . “We all came together.”
Northgate hustled in the midfield to outnumber Whitewater in its defensive zone. And its back line equally held the Lady Wildcats scoreless through the first half, then for the final 38 minutes of play. Whitewater senior striker Teegan VanGunst finished with an assist, but was held goalless among a group of defenders including junior Ashley Keller, sophomores Katie Salha, Hayli Verbanic and Brittany DeLoach.
“We know that both of them are great players,” said Verbanic of VanGunst and twin sister Annika, both of whom were volleyball stars for a 53-3 Whitewater team last fall. “We play a pressure defense. We just had to play our game.”
Keeping at least six maroon jerseys in its end for most Whitewater possessions, Northgate withstood early pressure to remain in a scoreless game, much of it coming from the play of junior goalkeeper Mattea Lewis.
Lewis, who only let in Abbey Reddig’s high shot from point-blank range that tied the game 1-1 just two minutes into the second half, made her biggest save 24 minutes in on Reddig in a scoreless game. Whitewater’s first corner kick bounded inside the box toward the far post to Reddig, who deflected it up at the goal line only to see Lewis bat it away before being cleared by the defense.
Six minutes later, Crenshaw’s left-footer put Northgate ahead for the first time.
The senior then quickly answered Whitewater’s goal two minutes into the second half that tied the game on 1-1 after VanGunst broke in off the left side and centered to Reddig. Crenshaw floated a hard shot from 30-yards out past a leaping Messina in the 47th minute for a 2-1 advantage on the first of three unanswered goals.
Murray and Barron put it out of reach on a pair of tallies just three minutes apart. In the 56th minute, Rhoad sent a free-kick that sailed past Whitewater’s keeper to Murray at the right post for a header.
Coming off her two goals in Tuesday’s overtime win over McIntosh, Barron kept Northgate’s crowd in a frenzy, beating Lady Wildcat freshman defender Aubrey Heard off the right wing and firing a shot into the left corner to beat the charging Lady Wildcat keeper.
By then, it was just a matter of playing out the final 15 minutes, the team showing little emotion until the final seconds ticked off the clock despite having pulled off another upset to go with Tuesday’s over McIntosh.
Said Lady Viking assistant Maurice Campbell afterwards, “We slayed the giants.”
Lady Vikings 4, Lady Wildcats 1
Northgate 1 3 – 4
Whitewater 0 1 — 1
First Half — 1, Northgate, Micayla Crenshaw (Lily Barron), 29th minute
Second Half — 2, Whitewater, Abbey Reddig (Teegan VanGunst), 42nd minute; 3. Northgate, Micayla Crenshaw, 47th minute; 4. Northgate, Hannah Murray (Cara Rhoad), 56th minute; 5. Northgate, Lily Barron, 59th minute.