Two for the price of one: Seniors Sydney Konkler and Braeden Carter have proven invaluable in goal for West Forsyth

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 9, 2024

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

CLEMMONS — The West Forsyth girl’s soccer team has sailed to a Central Piedmont 4-A championship this season with an unblemished record in conference.

And with most teams that win a championship in any sport, it takes a village. However, the Titans’ girl’s soccer team has taken that to the extreme. But it has worked to perfection.

The Titans use a platoon system in goal, with seniors Sydney Konkler and Braeden Carter playing between the pipes, with one goalkeeper playing the first half and the other playing the second.

“I’ve been startingmost of the time, the first half and then Braeden comes in second half,” Konkler said.

There is some strategy behind the platoon system.

Although Jeffrey Williams is in his first season as the head coach for the girls at West Forsyth after being the longtime head coach for the boys, he was around the girl’s team the previous three seasons and saw what former head coach Scott Bilton did before resigning last summer, did. 

“I don’t know what Williams’ deal was with that, but I, in the beginning of the season, I kind of not won it, but I kind of put in the effort a little bit more,” Konkler said. “So, I got that starting spot and we just kind of stayed that way.”

Carter has mostly played the second half this season for West Forsyth, which, as of Tuesday, was 15-2-1 overall and 13-0 with one regular-season game left scheduled with East Forsyth in Kernersville on Wednesday night.

“I feel like there’s some pressure on me in the second half,” Carter said. “I mean, I’ve walked into plenty of games where we’re tied 1-1, or we’re, I don’t think I’ve walked into a season where we’re down one, but I’ve definitely walked into plenty of ties. I feel like there’s pressure like that. I have to bring the energy upand I have to get the team on the other end to, like, score. 

Although it’s an unusual setup for a sport with a goaltender, especially a team as good as the West Forsyth girls soccer team, it’s been around the previous three years that Konkler and Carter have played soccer for the school.

“I’ve obviously followed the girls for the last three years when I wasn’t coaching them, Williams said. “Bilton and I talked a lot. I went to a good number of games, probably at least three or four every year. I actually trained the keepers a few times early on during the season — those two keepers.

Bilton used the same platoon system in 2019 with Kerry Eagleston, who played at Appalachian State, and Olivia Pratapas, who played at Louisville and is now at N.C. State. The strategy worked five years ago, helping West Forsyth finish 23-1, losing just one game – a 2-1 loss against Southern Pines Pinecrest in the NCHSAA Class 4-A Western Regional championship.

Before Williams became the head coach, Bilton saw the strengths of using both Konkler and Carter.

“I think it was kind of a littlehow do I word it? I think it kind of, not concerned me, but I guess in a way it did because you always want to play as much as you can, do everything that you can. So, I think I was a little hesitant on it because I wanted to be able to play, but I think in the end it all worked out.

Williams, although a new coach to the girls, knew that the strategy worked when he first became their head coach.

“I think that was a high possibility, just with knowing their skills and their background, he said. “I mean, they’re both seniors. They’re both quality keepers. And I had told them that if anyone created a margin between the other as far as their play, then that would probably be the keeper we would go with most of the time, but if it wasn’t a considerable margin, then we’d probably roll with both. 

That scenario of using both keepers has definitely played out perfectly, even with a new coach. 

“I feel like there always is new anxiety with a new coach, Carter said. I mean, you feel like you have to prove yourself again, and someone else is trying to learn from you again. And so, it’s hard being like our senior season and just having one year to get to know us.

The apprehension seems to have subsided as the season has progressed. That comes with different preparedness for each player.

“I don’t like sitting on the bench because ever since I started playing, I was one of the only goalkeepers, the only goalkeeper, and so going from playing every game, all game, to playing half a game it’s a big switch, Konkler said. But I think to be a well-rounded player you have to be able to help and cheer and do all that, not only on the fieldbut off the field. 

“But being able to see everything from a different perspective than on the field, I think it is a good thing to do.

The situation for Carter is completely different.

“I kind of do my own thing for the last three minutes (of halftime), she said. “Just before halftime, I get my gloves, and then I get ready to be warmed up.

It’s also different for Carter, who also played on the girl’s basketball team for the first time this past season, in the second half because many of the games this season have been routs. West Forsyth has outscored its opponents, not counting Wednesday’s scheduled game at East Forsyth, 84-21 this season. 

“I don’t know how she feels, obviously, but I feel like it is a big, like it’s a pressure for her, especially in big games like that, Konkler said. “Like if it was 0-0, to try and keep it at 0 goals against us and do all that. 

Although Williams has toiled with which half each keeper plays of late, it’s been pretty much Konkler in the first half and Carter in the second half. 

“We started off the year with Sydney in the first half and Braeden in the beginning of the second half, Williams said. “And we sort of kept it that way until a couple weeks ago I switched it up just because I wanted the other one to have that experience. 

So, switching in case one of them got hurt and to give, like, Sydney starts, and Braeden never got to hear her name for the starting lineup. So, Braeden started one game. So, it was like a multi-purpose switch-up for a little bit and then sort of go back to Sydney in the first half and Braeden in the second half to get us ready for the playoffs.”

It’s also different to see the platoon as a coach.

“We have some things that we do at the end of a game as if we’re up a goal, and we sort of want to see out the clock, Williams said. We have some things we like to do that the second-half keeper, I guess, would have to do that the first-half keeper wouldn’t necessarily.

“The second-half keeper probably has a little bit more information going on the field, like from me and from seeing the first half of the game played. 

The game is seen from a different perspective as a starter. 

“The first-half keeper has some of the prelim information, but they don’t get the advantage of having seen the other team that day. Both are sort of different keepers. Both have different strengths, and it’s good to have them, and maybe if one teams keys on one thing in the first half then when the other one comes in it’s totally opposite or something like that.

Konkler and Carter have had a chance to take a deep dive into their unique relationship.

“I feel like if we hadn’t been friends and as close as we are, then I think it would have made it a little more difficult because if we weren’t friends, we would’ve been arguing about it, fighting about it all the time because we both want the same thing. But because we are close, we understand what each other’s going through and it makes it a lot easier to be able to split the time and do what we’ve been doing.

The NCHSAA will release its pairings for the Class 4-A playoffs on Friday, and the first round is scheduled for Monday, so the season is quickly nearing its end.

“I would love to go undefeated, and I would even like go on a far run in states, Carter said. “I mean I think we can make it past first round. This team has never seen past second round, and I’d love to be there to see it. So, I feel like we can do it, but everything else past winning conference is the cherry on top. So, I don’t really have much to say about that.

Even though West Forsyth defeated Reynolds 6-1 Monday night on senior night, West Forsyth will definitely be playing at home on Monday night against its yet-to-be-determined opponent.

No matter when West Forsyth’s last game will be this season, Konkler and Carter will be part of a special group.

“It will be nice to walk off with her because we’ve been doing this for so long, Carter said. “I mean we’ve been playing soccer together since seventh grade (at Meadowlark), so it would be nice to walk off with her. It’s like an end of an era. And it will be so much fun to walk off with the other girls as well because they’ve been there for so long as well. 

Carter plans on going to Western Carolina in the fall.

“I’ll probably play club at Western because I’m not ready to give it up this year, she said. I feel like it’ll be fun just because I love the game, and it would be hard to give it up.

As for Konkler, she plans on going to Campbell.

“(I plan on not) playing competitively at Campbell, but I might do club soccer at Campbell, she said.

And Williams will have to fill the gap at goaltender next season after Konkler and Carter graduate from West Forsyth in June.

“They’ve been super-receptive. It’s been awesome, Williams said. I’ve really enjoyed the year. There’s a bunch of like really, really just considerate and open-minded and open-hearted girls that – I’ve been very fortunate enough to set them and be a part of the program again in a little different role than I’ve been in the past. 

“But it’s been great. It’s been really good.”