Cary, N.C – When 110 minutes of football weren’t enough and Cardinal Gibbons and Ardrey Kell went on penalties to decide the NC High School Athletic Association’s 4A State Championship on Saturday, the Crusaders put their trust in Rhian Lawrence.
Lawrence, the junior basketball player, turned goaltender mid-season. Lawrence, the savior of a penalty three straight games before during Gibbons’ postseason run.
As he had for some time, Lawrence rose to the occasion, scoring two massive saves as Gibbons defeated Ardrey Kell 4-2 after a 1-1 draw to capture their third girls’ soccer state title in program history, first at the 4A- Level.
As a result of their exploits, Lawrence took home the most prized player honors.
“My coach told me to just guess, and if I’m walking the right path, I’m walking the right path,” said Lawrence, who denied Ardrey Kell’s Ellie Riechman and Ellie Newman. “But I started looking into their eyes and they looked sideways, and I noticed that they kept going to the other side.”
The championship was the final chapter in an unlikely playoff run for the 23rd-seeded Crusaders that included victories over the third-seeded (Chapel Hill), first-seeded (Hoggard) and second-seeded teams (Ardrey Kell).
Six of Gibbons’ 16 wins this season (16-6-2) came during the postseason, and the Crusaders were still under-.500 on April 25 before closing out the year on an 11-game winning streak.
“We had some tough losses early in the season,” Gibbons head coach Brian Morgan said, “and I think they played a big part in how they handled adversity and difficult moments in the playoffs. It was great to see them persevere and overcome some challenges and win a state championship.”
Ardrey Kell, the 4A runner-up in 2008, 2009 and 2011, appeared in his fourth state title game. The Knights ended the year 25-2-1.
Early in the first half, both teams had stretches as they pressured the opposition in the 18-yard box and Gibbons had a good view of goal in the 10th minute when second striker Nya Folk had an attempt on goal brought.
By the time the half-time whistle blew, Ardrey Kell had a better argument than the side closest to goal thanks to two superb performances from young defender Kayley Newman. In the 22nd minute, Newman got away from a throw-in with possession and opened up to a shot that looked goalbound and went into the top right corner until Lawrence von Gibbons timed her jump perfectly and tipped the shot onto the bar.
Newman came temptingly close to the opening goal just before the break in the 38th minute. In a similar position to her last shot, Newman fired a low shot from outside the box that bounced off the bottom of the right post.
But despite the Knights’ near goals, the second half began with nothing separating the two sides. As the second half progressed, both Knights and Crusaders alternated pressure, but largely ignored it in the last third.
With nothing separating the two teams and both sides struggling to break through the opposition’s defence, Gibbons midfielder Lily Pryzwansky took matters into her own hands, opening in the 67th minute with a goal that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Pryzwansky collected a clearance from Ardrey Kell, had time to make a few touches and then fired a perfectly lofted shot that flew into back net and smashed just under the bar. The shot’s trajectory left Ardrey Kell’s goalkeeper Emily Casey helpless despite her efforts to save.
But Ardrey Kell stayed composed and stayed on the pitch as the clock ticked in his season. The Knights’ persistence was rewarded in the 79th minute. Second striker Taylor Suarez, feeding a ball from the left flank, fired from close range for her 18th goal of the season that led her team none bigger.
Neither side really threatened in the 30 minutes of extra time, although Suarez put in two shots on the frame that Lawrence managed.
When it came time for penalties to decide the title, the Crusaders remained composed. Pryzwansky, Sydney Hennesen, Hailey Juhasz and Lauren Doyle all made their kicks for the Crusaders, who had great help from Lawrence.