By Pete Zamplas – Hendersonville High School Lady Bearcats won an area award as the best female squad in a major sport, right before winning three playoff matches to prove the honor as quite visionary.
The Lady Cats reached the 2A soccer fourth round for the second consecutive season, for the longest run of any Henderson County high school squad in a team-only sport.
HHS (17-2-1) lost for only the second time this entire season, by 2-0 Friday at unbeaten Lake Norman Charter. It was the Knights’ eighth shutout in a row, and payback for HHS ending their postseason a year ago. Hendersonville had won 17 consecutive times in ’18, after dropping its opener to T.C. Roberson.
The Cats’ last victory was May 16 in their home finale, over R-S (Rutherfordton-Spindale) Central by a convincing 4-1 margin in round three. The match was played on nearby East Henderson’s artificial turf, amidst monsoon-like rain last week. It briefly sprinkled, but otherwise rain held off that day.
West Region third seed HHS opened by thrashing East Rutherford 5-0 after scoring three goals in two minutes to burst open the contest. The next win was a rare close one, 4-3 over Fred T. Ford on May 12 on a muddy Dietz Field after a rain-delayed start.
Kayla Lindsey is the HHS head coach, assisted by Melissa Nitsche and Amber Yancey. Lindsey starred as a player for West Henderson, then Brevard College where she graduated in 2010. She is expecting her first child, a son, in July. Kicking away in her tummy, he was the lone male in team huddles.
Competing against other sports that finished their seasons, HHS girls won a team award from the Mountain Amateur Athletic Club (MAAC) at the the WNC Sports Award Banquet May 6. The Lady Bearcats were chosen as the best female team among larger schools, in major rather than Olympic sports which has its own categories. They beat co-finalists A.C. Reynolds soccer, T.C. Roberson volleyball, and Smoky Mountain and Tuscola in basketball.
Lady Bearcat top soccer scorer Eden Hawkins was among four finalists as the top D1 female athlete. Enka softball star Kloyee Anderson took home that award. Tykel Landrum of HHS won the overall male D1 athlete honor.
Lady Cats had no seniors in soccer a year ago. This time there were seven seniors among 18 on varsity, before four more were brought up from junior varsity.
One of those promoted, Ellie Bowen, scored in the final victory. Bowen followed up her shot and got to the defected ball just before R-S goalkeeper Savannah Bates did close to the goal. Bowen then cleverly and deftly headed the ball over Bates. As Coach Lindsey said, swift Bowen is hard to “mark”/guard and adds another offensive weapon.
Seniors who will graduate June 8 are Ella Boeke, Arlin Carachure, Grayson Garber, Kayla Hill, Carson Kirby, Breanna Kirk, and Lupita Melendez. Four started, others played key minutes.
Scoring balance makes it harder for foes to key on only one person. Hawkins, a junior forward, led with 16 goals overall. Next were Martha Smith (10), a junior, her freshman sister and co-midfielder Miriam Smith (eight), and forward Melendez pacing seniors with eight goals. Kirby led with nine assists.
Miriam Smith was scorching hot in playoffs, and is emerging as a major scoring option for ’19 and beyond. She averaged two goals in scoring six times in the first three playoff matches. She scored a goal in the opener. She exploded for three of the four HHS goals (with her sister netting the other goal) in round two, including the overtime winner. Smith then netted two in a row — the first blasted to the net’s right side and the second on a breakaway — versus R-S for a 3-0 first-half lead. The first goal versus R-S was forward Nikki Schedivy’s deep blast across the goal and into its upper left corner, nine minutes into the contest. Bowen finished the scoring.
In the playoff opener Hawkins, Kirby then Miriam Smith scored in the two-minute onslaught. Then HHS led Foard 2-0 at halftime and later at 3-1, but Foard did not stall. The Tigers tied it with 40 ticks on the clock, to force OT.
Lindsey said she told the players before overtime to “dig deep” and pull it out, and they stepped up effort to prevail. In the next match, though up on R-S by 3-0 she urged “focus” and pressure to keep a healthy lead and time HHS did so.
“Coach expects a lot out of us, to pick up the intensity,” Kirby told The Tribune after the win over R-S. “We showed up.” She is heading to Furman. Kirby and others credited sharp chemistry and camaraderie with enhancing teamwork, scoring balance and spirited play.
“Fantastic!” is how Coach Lindsey described that third-round triumph to the Lady Bearcats, in the post-match pep talk. “We’re not a one man show,” she said, saying that varied scoring and relentless pressure is “our game.” She said “Nikki’s (early) goal set the tone for us, and we rode it.”
In contrast to the HHS balance, Lake Norman had one go-to scorer in Ayden Yates. The Virginia Tech-bound senior scored both of the match’s goals, to reach 44 this season including ten in the first four playoff matches.
HHS would “be aware” of Yates, Coach Lindsey said ahead of the clash, but try not to overload too much on her and leave others open. The Cats would “share the love” in who guarded her, mixing zone and man-to-man defense to keep Lake Norman off balance.
HHS juniors include starting goalkeeper Camryn Coggins and defender Maya Gash, daughter of HHS Athletic Director Eric Gash. Coggins registered nine shutouts in ’18. She is backed by soph Katie Parce.
Gash made many outstanding defensive plays. For instance, in thwarting R-S, she zoomed in to take the ball from a fast breakaway attacker. Seniors Garber and Hill also starred on defense. Lindsey said HHS speed enabled them to “cheat” toward a ball handler yet get back to the other side as needed.
HHS quickness was in foot speed, and also tempo. The Lady Cats were quick to get a ball a foe kicked out of bounds and get it back in play. They often dominated opponents, by keeping the ball in the opposing side of the field.
As for those WNC team and individual awards, they split into two levels. Division I/1 is for schools in larger conferences such most Buncombe and all four Henderson teams. Division II/2 is for smaller ones mostly farther from Asheville.
Landrum, WNC’s career receiving yards leader will play football for Wingate in the fall. First as a last prep hurrah, the Shrine Bowler will play in the state’s prestigious East-West All-Star football game for recent grads — in Greensboro, July 18.
“It felt amazing,” Landrum told The Tribune of his WNC honor. “It was just a blessing to hear it. I’m very thankful to win this award.” HHS had the most (three of 15) winners of $1,500 scholarships in Landrum, Michaiah Darity, and football kicker Tanner Gilliam.
Joining the Lady Cats as Division 1 team winners were Roberson baseball (over Reynolds baseball and football), Brevard Lady Blue Devils cross country and Brevard boys’ tennis.
North Henderson wrestling had a leg up over most area squads as among five male Olympic team finalists. Brevard tennis won, before going to its fifth state team final in a row.
Among the 28 schools with nominees, Reynolds and Roberson (13 each) had the most WNC award finalists with Hendersonville and Murphy next with eight each.