There’s no way around it for varsity girls soccer teams from Fike and Hunt: One of their seasons will end Monday night.
The Warriors and Golden Demons will meet for a third time this season Monday at Hunt, but this is the match that really matters, coming in the third round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs. The Warriors have the upper hand, having won the first meeting 1-0 at Hunt on April 4 before the teams concluded the regular season May 10 at Fike with a 1-1 draw.
But that one win — Hunt’s eighth in the last 10 meetings in the rivalry series dating back to the 2018 season — was enough to give the Warriors (20-1-3) their second straight 3-A Quad County Conference title and the No. 3 seed in the 3-A East. The Demons (20-2-2) took the No. 11 seed and here they are, meeting Hunt for a third time in the third round. Yet neither head coach was bothered by the draw.
“I said it would be good if we could meet them in the fourth round or Eastern finals and I thought both teams were good enough to be there and I still think that,” said Hunt’s Richard Frazier. “I don’t really or can’t really worry about the draw. We’re just looking at a third-round opponent and that’s our next mission: Move on to the fourth round.”
Fike’s Chris Mizelle said there was no point in quibbling about playing a team like Hunt in the third round after winning 20 regular-season matches.
“Yes, you want your path to be as as kind to you and as generous to you as you can, but when it comes down to it, you got to play who you’ve got to play whenever you’ve got to play ‘em,” he said. “So, we’re looking forward to the challenge. Once you get to this stage, final eight in the East, the cream has kind of risen to the top at that point and you’ve got to play as well as you can against what you expect to be really, really high quality competition.”
Mizelle pointed to the eight teams remaining in the 3-A East as all bona fide contenders for the state crown that was won by Lake Norman Charter in 2022.
“I think if you look at the last eight here in the East, you know, that’s probably about what you expected it to be with the teams that are still there,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to it, whether we had to play them in the third round or whether it was the Eastern final, it didn’t really make a difference to me, because I think there was a certain air of inevitability about it anyway. So you know, we’re excited we’re really confident about it, and we’re hoping we play really, really well.”
MANNER OF ARRIVAL
Hunt landed in Monday’s tilt by blasting 30-seed West Brunswick 9-0 in the first round before knocking off No. 14 J.H. Rose, which had tied the Warriors 2-2 on April 6 in Greenville, by a 3-1 margin in the second round Thursday. Fike blitzed Durham School of the Arts 9-0 in the first round then clipped sixth-seeded and 2-A/3-A Big East Conference champ Southern Nash 3-0 on Thursday in Stanhope.
In the first Fike-Hunt match of 2023, the Demons had plenty of scoring opportunities but the only ball that found its way into the net came off the foot of Hunt junior Cappa Bunn with about 15 minutes to play. In the rematch at Fike more than a month later, the Demons struck first with junior Erin Pope scoring near the end of the first half. The Warriors got the equalizer with 14 minutes to play in the match when sophomore Maddie Brown finished a pass from junior midfielder Susan Guzman.
But there was nothing gleaned from those games that neither side didn’t already know about the other one.
“We’ve had two really good performances in the first two games,” Mizelle said. “Very capable of winning the game in the first two games, so I don’t think there needs to be some massive overhaul in tactics and we don’t need to try to reinvent the wheel. We need to play well again, finish the chances that we create and hopefully we finish more than they do.”
Hunt’s Frazier also downplayed the aspect of the first two matchups providing any additional insight.
“Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s anything new that we learned,” he said. “Coming into the season we knew they were going to be a quality squad of players. Being from Wilson, I’ve either coached them or coached against them at some times for the last 10 years. So there’s some quality players there. And so, again, I don’t think it’s anything that that either one of us learned, I think it’s going to be who can execute and play their best games.”
STAKES ARE HIGH
One thing is for sure, both teams are more than ready for the do-or-die third meeting.
“We’re ready for it,” insisted Fike’s Pope. “We were just ready to play. We want redemption and we feel like we got it.”
Guzman said the stakes are high and everyone knows it.
“It’s a state playoff game and everyone knows the risk,” she said. “Both us and Fike are going into that game wanting to win obviously.”
Fike is a little closer to Hunt this season due to some new faces, including sophomore defender/midfielder Sam Mallol, who started for the Warriors last spring. Mallol’s addition to the lineup, along with the arrival of talented freshmen Allerie Pitt, Emory Skinner and Madison Ferrell from Elm City Middle, gave the Demons not only added depth but also options. Avery Lentz, a 5-foot-9 senior three-sport athlete, moved from the back line to the front line and is second behind Pope in goals scored on the team with 21.
“So, we’ve got some people that are in some different places and from a confidence standpoint, I think there’s no shortage of confidence on our part, just because of how well we have played in the first two games,” Mizelle said. “And that was a pretty stark contrast from the two games last year where we were competitive. We’re a different team. So I think we’ve got no reason to not feel really good about our chances. There’s a reason that we’re both ranked very high in the state; we’re both very good teams. So I think if nothing else, it should be a really competitive game, a really high-quality game. And whoever comes out of it, I think should be looking to finish all the way through.”
Besides Mallol’s departure, the Warriors have had other attrition through players not returning this year or injuries but Hunt is still the team to beat. The winner of Monday’s match, Frazier said, is the one that makes the most of its chances.
“I think both teams have the capability of possessing the ball and moving the ball around. I think whichever team finishes opportunities will have the best chance for a good outcome,” he said.
Both teams have scored a lot of goals this season with Fike knocking in 130 and Hunt right behind with 127. Twelve different Demons have scored, led by Pope with 27 while Lentz has 21 goals and sophomore Karys Wheeler has scored 20. Pope has 26 assists and senior Lily Stegall, who has signed with Gardner-Webb University, has 24.
Hunt’s scoring is more concentrated with sophomores Mariah Polk (38) and Brown (34) accounting for more than 50% of the scoring. Guzman has a team-high 24 assists to go with 20 goals.
Both goalkeepers are solid with Hunt senior Logan Boone, who has signed with Bridgewater College in Virginia, and Fike junior Ainsley Cato.
“Because both teams play so well in possession, it doesn’t really look like it’s a defensive battle,” Mizelle said. “But chances are going to be at a premium and hard to come by and it’s going to be the group that can put away the chances that they create, knowing full well that one chance may do it.”
Guzman said that the team that is able to stay focused will have an advantage.
“I feel like also when it comes down to it being a rivalry, I feel like just controlling our emotions at the end of the day,” she said. “I feel like if we control our emotions and block out the audience and just focus on soccer. I feel like that definitely will help us.”
ALWAYS FRIENDLY RIVALRY
So as possibly the biggest Hunt-Fike girls soccer match ever looms Monday with jubilation promised to the winner and heartbreak awaiting the loser, don’t expect things to change off the field. The players are all friends and the coaches are colleagues. Frazier is the executive director for Wilson Youth Soccer Association and Mizelle is its director of coaching.
“I feel like on the field we just kind of forget that we know each other and it’s like another different opponent,” Pope said. “We’re just like, playing a different opponent but like off the field, we’re all high-fiving each other.”
Guzman pointed out during her telephone interview that she was sitting beside Fike’s Wheeler, who is one of her teammates on the WYSA ‘06 girls team that is headed back to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Series in July.
“Like we’re hanging out right now,” she said. “I think both teams do a really good job of realizing that we’re only rivals like between the lines and outside the lines, we’re back to being like family and stuff. So I think we do a really good job at that.”