Catching up with Riley Terry

Published 12:18 am Thursday, June 23, 2022

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By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

Riley Terry is one of those quintessential soccer players who is going to give it everything she has no matter what.

Terry, who is probably best known for scoring what proved to be the winning goal against Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons to help West Forsyth win the 2017 NCHSAA Class 4-A state championship, graduated from West Forsyth in 2019.

And along the way, Terry, who is preparing to play her senior season this fall at Western Carolina, has suffered numerous injuries. The ankle and knee injuries started in high school, but have persisted throughout her time in Cullowhee.

The injuries have worn on her to the point where, even though should accept another year of eligibility because of COVID-19, she has decided to decline.

“I have the opportunity if I want it, but I will not be taking it because I am — my body is telling me it’s done,” she said. “I’m going to treat this season as the last season, but definitely going to bring that mentality off the field and not just go through the motions. I’m going to play hard. It’s definitely going to be filled with emotion because we have a really strong class.”

Unlike most players her age, she didn’t start playing soccer until she was 8 years old, instead focusing on ballet and tap-dancing.

As Terry began to grow and appreciate soccer, she eventually landed at West Forsyth. That spring, the Titans had a dominant season and finished 20-3-4 and 12-0 in the Central Piedmont 4-A, outscoring their opponents 84-12.

“I thought she was probably going to be too small to play center-back on a high-school level team, as far as a very competitive high school team like us,” Coach Scott Bilton of West Forsyth said of Terry, who is listed as 5-foot-4 at Western Carolina. “And so, even though she told me that she was going to play center-back, I fully intended for her to be kind of an outside back and use her speed a little bit more.

“And from the first couple of workouts and open-field sessions I realized that, no, she’s feisty enough and is enough of a fighter that she isn’t going to back down. And we just said, ‘Sure, let’s do it.'”

Bilton’s faith in Terry, and her belief in herself, helped lead the Titans to an 86-game winning streak in the Central Piedmont 4-A, deep playoff runs, and a state championship in 2017.

“I think West Forsyth gave me the opportunity to learn who I was as a person,” Terry said. “I got to kind of figure out who I was and what I liked and what I didn’t like.

Bilton remembers Terry’s time at West Forsyth fondly.

“She was incredibly coachable, and just really wanted to perform well,” Bilton said. “And any kind of tips or pointers or suggestions we gave she would go for it. But the thing you can’t teach, that every coach will tell you, is just tenacity. She just was fiery, and even if she was a little bit undersized it didn’t matter. She didn’t see it that way. She went into tackles hard from Day 1. Even in those first couple days of workouts, she was not afraid.”

Despite a disappointing semifinal loss to Charlotte Providence that included playing two games in two days without a rest period, the Titans were loaded the next season and had aspirations of reaching their goal of winning a state championship.

“That was our motivation was that experience,” Terry said. “We didn’t want to feel like that again. We were so close, and it was actually like the opportunity was taken away from us.”

And true to form, West Forsyth dominated that season. It finished 26-1-1 overall and 12-0 in the conference, losing only to Cornelius Hough and tying East Forsyth, which was in the Metro 4-A conference at the time.

“From the get-go we had really good team chemistry,” Terry said. “And our seniors had a lot to do with that — Elizabeth Neblett and Savannah Goodin and Delaney Cowart — we had really good leaders that were just always there for us and made practice fun, really supportive, even if one of the older girls got subbed out they were still cheering on the younger girl that came in for them. I think that had a lot to do with us winning.”

West Forsyth reached the regional final of the playoffs and faced Charlotte Catholic. It went scoreless through regulation, two 10-minute overtimes, and two 5-minute sudden-death overtimes. So, the game went to a penalty-kick shootout to determine which team would face Cardinal Gibbons in the state championship.

“Oh, my gosh, the penalty kicks,” Terry said. “I remember Coach Bilton first talking about when we’re going into penalty kicks, who should we take, who should we put in there? And I just kept walking around, ‘Please don’t pick me. Please don’t pick me.’

“I have never been good at penalty kicks. I just don’t have a lot of confidence in myself. Especially playing the whole game, I was like, ‘My legs can’t do it. I just can’t do it.’ And (Bilton) walked over to me and I know I couldn’t let him down, so, ‘yeah, I can do it.'”

One problem. Terry missed the kick. However, goalkeeper Kerry Eagleston bailed both Terry and the rest of the team out by saving the next Charlotte Catholic penalty kick. West Forsyth ended up winning the game and advanced to play Cardinal Gibbons.

“The next day at practice, when I came down, what was she doing? She’s taking penalties,” Bilton said of Terry. “I told her, ‘Don’t worry, it’s fine.’ She was like, ‘No, no. I’m going to be better.’ And she did.”

Sure enough, the bright lights hit Terry in the state championship in overtime at Dail Soccer Stadium at N.C. State. The game went to overtime and West Forsyth was awarded a free kick. Terry took the shot from 35 yards out, and it went in to give West Forsyth a 4-3 lead. But the game was far from over.

“Bilton, during the whole season, said, ‘You’re going to take free kicks,'” Terry said. “‘I want you do it. You’re the last defender, and you have a good foot. Just work on it.’

“So, after every practice I would go over there and work on kicking long balls, just taking free kicks, and especially leading up to the game. And Bilton looked at me and he goes. ‘Just try to get it in the box. Do the best you can.’

“I hear the crowd cheering, I have Bilton on my right side. I just felt a lot of pressure. I just took a deep breath and backed up as far as I could, and I was like, ‘Well, this is it.'”

The shot went in for the lead. However, because it wasn’t sudden death, West Forsyth had to try and kill off almost 2 minutes.

“From that moment then just everybody gathering together and just saying, ‘OK. Now we’re going to bunker in and finish this game off,” Bilton said. “And Riley was obviously a huge part of that.”

Terry was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

“The funny things is, I didn’t even get to see the trophy or take a picture with it that night,” she said. “Everybody else got to take a picture. Seeing their memories pop up on Snapchat and stuff, they’re all holding the trophy that night, and I didn’t get the opportunity to do that. I went over and spoke to my mom, I got the MVP trophy so I was doing that, and being interviewed and pictures taken, and talking to some of my friends on the sideline and taking pictures with them, and the next thing I know, the trophy is gone. I’m like, ‘I guess I’ll see it when I get back to school.'”

She only has one regret.

“I definitely wish I got to hold the trophy, to experience that more with my friends, and my teammates,” Terry said. “But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I was so blessed to even receive that award.”

Also, Terry didn’t even go home with the rest of her teammates, She, Erin Blevins, Brooklyn Berry and Riley Dorman, all piled in a car driven by Terry’s mom, and drove through the night to play in a club tournament on Memorial Day weekend in New Jersey.

“Looking back on it now, I think we do believe (that they were robbed of the state-championship experience),” Terry said. “But I honestly wouldn’t trade that experience of going to New Jersey because that next day when I played in the game in New Jersey, after I was done with the game, I went back to the hotel, and that’s when Western Carolina called me and offered me.”

West Forsyth lost some seniors from the state-championship team the following season, but a good chunk of them were back. But the injury bug hit right away, even before the season started.

“I think we kind of took the playoffs for granted,” Terry said. “I feel like just, without the seniors, Elizabeth and all of them, they were the glue that kind of held us together. They kept people in their place, class-wise, in a mature and kind way. And I feel like the next year, we all were really good friends and I don’t think that anybody wanted to be that leader. And when we tried to it came off in not the nicest way.”

West Forsyth was good in Terry’s junior year in 2018, but something was missing. The Titans were 17-4 overall, but its 86-game conference winning streak was stopped after a 1-0 loss at home to Reagan.

West Forsyth lost again at Reagan 1-0 a few weeks later.

“When we lost the second time we knew that there was just something wrong,” Terry said. “Like, we definitely saw where there was a disconnect.”

West Forsyth went to the playoffs, defeating Greensboro Page 6-2 in the first round, but it lost to Charlotte Myers Park 4-1 in the next game, ending its season.

The Titans graduated some key players after that season but were intent on erasing the previous season from their memory.

West Forsyth was 23-0 in Terry’s senior season and played host to Southern Pines Pinecrest in the Western Regional championship. West Forsyth took a 1-0 lead, but Pinecrest came back and won 2-1.

“When we took the one-goal lead against Pinecrest it was kind of reminiscent of this year’s team, is that we had opportunities. We just didn’t finish them,” Bilton said. “And that was a struggle of (Terry’s) senior year, is finishing. We could not finish, but again, defensively we were so strong.”

The loss ended Terry’s career at West Forsyth. She graduated a few weeks later.

“There was a special group in that one,” Bilton said of the senior class in 2019. “The dedication and love for their high school team was just something special. And when you get that love and dedication, they’re going to make good things happen. The legacy is never going to be matched. I would hope that it would, and would love for it to, but I don’t know if it ever will because that is a group that was supremely talented, but not only talented, was supremely dedicated and supremely focused. That’s just something — you might have one or two at a time — but this group just, there was a bunch.”

Just a few months later, Terry packed her bags and headed to Cullowhee for her freshman year with the Catamounts. Unfortunately, she suffered an ankle injury early that season.

“I think I was just emotionally torn and my body was trying to tell me to stop, but with college soccer you can’t stop,” she said. “If you stop you feel like, ‘OK, I wasted my opportunity.'”

She had ankle surgery and had a damaged ligament replaced with an artificial ligament.

“They put that in that in there and made it tighter,” Terry said. “So, my ankle still kind of hurts today, but it doesn’t stop me from playing soccer.”

COVID-19 hit during spring of 2020, which affected workouts and the spring season for Terry at Western Carolina. It also shortened the fall season last year. In addition, Terry hurt her knee her sophomore year, in the spring of 2021.

“I went into a knee-on-knee collision with a girl,” she said. “And my knee immediately swelled. I went off the field for a little bit, but there was only 5 minutes left in the first half. But I went back out and played the second half. So, my knee swelled, there was bruising all over my knee, but nobody really thought anything of it.

“I continued to play. I played the rest of the spring, played the entire next fall season, and every game, played that, and then (last) December, I kept going to my trainer.”

Terry knew something was wrong.

“I kept going, ‘Something’s not right. It hurts. It’s just not a bone bruise. Something’s wrong,” she said. “And she (the trainer) was like, ‘No, no, no, it’s OK.”

When they did perform an MRI on Terry’s knee, it was determined that she suffered a torn meniscus.

“It was the same knee I hurt my junior year of high school,” she said. “…When I got the MRI, they said, ‘We can do therapy and everything.’ And I said, ‘No, this has been going on for a year, almost over a year. I want surgery.’

“I didn’t want knee surgery, but as long as I had the injury and how bad it had hurt at the time, I wanted it fixed.'”

Terry plans on playing this fall at Western Carolina, going to school though next spring, and then graduating next May.

“This is the last season, but I’m definitely going to bring that mentality out on the field, not just go through the motions,” she said. “I’m going to play hard. It’s definitely going to be filled with emotion because we have a really strong class.”

Terry is also engaged to Michael Goehrig, who played baseball at Western Carolina before eventually ending up at Eastern Kentucky. Her plans are to become a teacher and get married in the fall of next year

“Michael’s the most incredible person I’ve ever met in my life, and he and I are the same,” Terry said. “We just work really well together. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but with him it was. And we’ve been inseparable ever since my freshman year (at Western Carolina).”

Although her playing days will soon be over, soccer will always be a part of Terry’s life.

“Dating back to how much fun I had my sophomore year, and my high school years in general, the soccer part, I think I’ve realized that I do want to do something with soccer (after she graduates next year). And I think that does come from Bilton.

“And Michael wants to be a baseball coach, so I think that kind of had an influence, too, because I just see how Bilton is with each one of his players. And I want to be like that for my future soccer players. Whether that’s coaching club, coaching high school, little rec teams, I do want to be involved in some way.”