“A Special Group”: Seniors lead the way as West Forsyth girls’ soccer posts unbeaten regular season with eyes on state title
Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 9, 2019
By Marc Pruitt
For the Clemmons Courier
“Senioritis” hasn’t set in yet for a group of 12 seniors on the girls’ soccer team at West Forsyth.
They still have some unfinished business to attend to that they hope will end with another NCHSAA 4-A state championship in Raleigh later this month.
The Titans finished the regular season with a perfect 20-0 record, including a 10-0 mark in the Central Piedmont 4-A Conference, having allowed just five goals during the regular season — and zero since a 2-1 win against Reynolds on April 2.
“From the beginning, we knew defense would be our hallmark this season,” Coach Scott Bilton said. “It’s nice to say we’ve only given up five goals, but I bet each of our five defenders would be able to rattle off how it happened, what the mistake was, and what they needed to do to correct it. It bugs them — every single one of them. It’s a great unit. We take pride that we’ve had several games where we haven’t given up a shot. That’s what we really want to do. We’re not scoring a ton of goals, but we are scoring effective goals. We know we will go as far as our defense takes us.”
With the state playoffs starting this week, another run to a state championship brings an added level of motivation for the Titans, especially for the 12 seniors — and maybe even more so for a group of seven players who have played on the varsity team since they were freshman and have won 83 games and counting. Six of those seven were starters on the 2017 state title team that finished 26-1-1.
Kerry Eagleston, who has been a four-year starter in goal, has signed with Appalachian State. Riley Terry, who has signed with Western Carolina, scored the game-winning goal of the state championship game and was named the MVP. Riley Dorman scored the first goal of the state championship game and has signed with Catawba. Kat Spencer, who signed with Belmont Abbey, has been a prolific goal scorer during her career. Meredith Stewart, who has signed with Catawba, and Bri Hudnall have both helped to hold down the midfield for four seasons. And Amber Skinner has been part of the Titans’ strong defense.
Add to that mix Ashley Perkins, Laisha Medel, Lauren Yalvac, Megan Marshall and team manager Katie Griffin, and you have the largest class of seniors that Bilton has had during his tenure.
“It’s a great group of girls that have enjoyed a lot of success,” Bilton said. “They come from great families. They are fun to coach because of their drive and motivation to get better. There is always positive energy around them. That’s made them easy to coach.”
Bilton, along with all the seniors, see plenty of parallels from this year’s team to the state title team from two years ago.
“It starts with great leadership,” Bilton said. “We may only have three captains, but we have four, five, six other girls who want to be leaders, too. And they all lead by example, attitude, and energy.”
Terry sees a lot of those same traits.
“We have the ambition to win. We have the drive to win and we want to win,” Terry said. “That positive energy is there. As seniors, we have talked about going out with a bang. That’s what motivates us.”
Not only has playing together at West for four years proved beneficial to the team’s run of success, several players have been teammates during club and rec soccer before they graced Durwood Pack soccer stadium.
“Kat Spencer and I have been playing together since we were 4,” Dorman said. “Riley Terry is my best friend. We have that natural connection and that has carried over to everyone else. There’s a great deal of comfort in knowing we have that familiarity. That has definitely been a major factor in our success. And the leadership we got from the seniors two years ago, I think we are trying to pass that on.”
“This is like my second family,” Spencer said. “We have a great bond and we all love each other. To know that we will always have a place here because of what we were able to do two years ago, that’s special.”
“It definitely helps that a lot of us have played together for so long,” Hudnall said. “We know each other’s playing styles and I think that’s crucial. I feel like the example the seniors from two years ago provided us help us bring along the underclassman now.”
“We play for each other, that’s the biggest thing,” Stewart said. “We always seem to look for the next pass or the open pass instead of being selfish. We want to go out on a high note. Being with this group the last four years—and some of them a lot longer — it’s been awesome.”
“We have a strong defense, strong backline, and senior leadership,” Eagleston said. “Some of us have played together so long that we know each other’s favorite colors, favorite animals. You know how this person plays and you know how to lift each other up. It makes it easier.”
“We just always seem to know what we are going to do before we do it,” Skinner said. “It felt like we had that same level of success two years ago. I think we are really starting to put it all together, too.”
State championship recollections
All 12 of the seniors made the trip to Raleigh in some capacity to see the thrilling 4-3 win against Cardinal Gibbons to cap the 2017 seasons.
Megan Marshall, a member of the JV team, remembers the celebration she saw and the feeling of excitement and nervousness as the thought of playing varsity the next season entered her mind.
“It was little intimidating at first to come into all that success,” Marshall said. “But once tryouts started, everyone welcomed me with open arms. They made an effort to make me feel welcome and bring me along. That really made me a lot more comfortable. I got to play several years of club with Kat (Spencer) and being able to finish my career with her here just feels right. That’s part of the bond we all share.”
Lauren Yalvac was also in the stands two seasons ago.
“You could tell there was a special bond and I think we have something very similar,” Yalvac said. “They made a point to make me feel included when I made varsity last year. That has definitely helped to carry us. I had a feeling this could be a special year.”
“I was so happy when they won and it was exciting to be there to see it,” Ashley Perkins said. “And from playing JV my first two years, I knew I needed to live up to that my junior year if I played varsity. It didn’t take me long to get used to it because they were so welcoming. We all work together so well.”
“I remember Dorman’s goal and how it set the tone that night,” Laisha Medel said. “They went in as underdogs and realized they could play with them after that. Me walking into that my junior year was intimidating and fun at the same time. It’s been a great experience.”
Katie Griffin was one of the players on the bench in Raleigh when the final whistle blew. She has run into hard luck since then, suffering torn ACLs in both her knees during club season the last two years. She has become the team manager because she wants to stay involved but wishes she could do more on the field.
“We are one unit and it’s somewhat bittersweet for me that I can’t be more involved,” Griffin said. “Physically I’m not able, and that’s frustrating. But I still feel like I’m a big part of the team and they make sure to make me feel that way.”
“I remember being overjoyed,” Eagleston said. “We worked so hard leading up to it. That was our final step. Not many teams can say they ended their season with a win. And that’s what we want to do this year.”
Memories and impact
Bilton knows there is still plenty of work ahead for his team in the playoffs. He also knows how fortunate he has been the last four years.
“I remember distinctly like it was a few days ago,” Bilton said. “I was sitting on this field and I had four of these seniors — they were eighth graders at the time — they came and were introduced to me by Meredith Long, who was a senior at that time. She said, ‘hey, let me introduce you to these girls. We were losing six players from that team and I knew we would have to replace them with another group. These four that were here that day — Riley Terry, Riley Dorman, Bri Hudnall, and Kerry Eagleston — they all just came up and it was just natural. From that moment on, I’ve felt a strong connection to them. We’ve shared the ups and downs of success and failure, great seasons and seasons that haven’t lived up to our expectations. But we’ve always been positive with each other. They have all been a special group.”
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