HUNTERSVILLE – Justin Valenti isn’t sure his pep talk was the deciding factor. He just made it quick to the Lake Norman Charter girls soccer team heading into overtime of the N.C. 1A championship game.
“I said `Hey, we have two 10’s (20 minutes of overtime) and you can either give it away or win the ball and win the game,” he said. “This is it.”
Lake Norman Charter responded like few soccer squads do in overtime. The Knights pumped in four goals in the extra two periods May 25 to beat Raleigh Charter 6-3 and set off a celebration at N.C. State’s Dail Field.
“I’m not going to let this feeling go away for a while,” goalkeeper Carolyn Huddy said, laughing. “The bus ride home was amazing. It was one big party. We were all cheering. Then it would settle down and someone would say `We just won the state championship’ and it would erupt. We got home at 2 a.m. but I was still wide awake.”
Lake Norman Charter finished 18-3-3 and won its first state championship.
Sophomore forward Erin Iknayan was named the championship match Most Valuable Player. She scored the tying goal with seven minutes left in regulation and the go-ahead goal in the second minute of overtime.
Raleigh Charter (20-2) tied the game at 3 on a penalty kick. But Lake Norman Charter didn’t buckle. Madeline Iknayan’s 35-yard shot gave the Knights a 4-3 lead in the 85th minute. Rachel Quest chipped in a goal from about 40 yards out to make it 5-3 in the 91st minute.
“Those were two great goals in the second overtime,” Valenti said. “It was a totally different game. In the overtime we were dominant. Our plan was to shoot as much as we could. We also thought we could get around their outside backs.”
Riley Kane’s goal in the 98th minute, her second of the match, clinched matters for Lake Norman Charter.
The game was a contrast to the first four playoffs in which the Knights didn’t allow a goal. Their senior-laden defense and Huddy (a UNC Wilmington signee) were driving forces all season.
“When the playoffs started, we really wanted it,” Huddy said. “The seniors knew how close we were to winning and wanted the younger players to understand that. They definitely responded. I think our team chemistry was great. We were a lot closer and had more senior leadership. We hung out more off the field. But our defense definitely stepped up this year.”
Lake Norman Charter allowed only 14 goals in 24 games, and scored 115.
“I think our chemistry was different from years past,” Valenti said. “The seniors knew this was their year. Camaraderie helped. They were able to not only tell the other players to do a drill, but to do it better.”