Pinecrest Academy senior Haley Triplett stood on the wet North Forsyth turf about 30 yards away from the goal with the ball at the base of her right foot. She knew exactly what she wanted to do with it.
Everything about her ensuing kick into the net was on the mark, from the curve and spin of the ball to the placement just in front of the right post.
“I knew it was probably too short to play it in for someone to score,” Triplett said. “I just saw the open corner. I was going to curve it in and it played in my favor.”
That kind of precision in shooting comes from experience, something the Paladins have plenty of this season after a trip to the Class 1A private semifinals last season. In their one-sided 2-0 win against the Raiders on Tuesday night, that discrepancy was just one of the reasons for victory.
Even with players like Triplett leading the charge, though, there’s still some young up-and-comers rounding things out, another reason head coach Dominic Martelli is optimistic about his 2019 team’s chances. They're certainly in a better position to begin the season than last year, when they started 0-7 partly because of a lack of bodies due to the girls basketball team making a deep run.
"We finally have three really good forwards, and I'm still missing two sophomores that are high-level club players that have been injured the whole year." Pinecrest coach Domenic Martelli said. "We didn't have that at the beginning of the year (last season).
“I think this year, what's helped us is we have two very good freshmen, but our whole team is back. We lost a very important senior last year in Regina Metz, but what's happened is, that means more kids are contributing."
One of those freshmen, Ivey Crain, gave her team a lead it would never give up midway through the first half against North. With 21:10 left in the first half, she floated a ball over North Forsyth keeper Savannah Cummings off an assist by Olivia Gannon. The Paladins have only played three games so far, but the score was Crain’s ninth of the young season.
“You can't teach what Ivey has naturally,” Martelli said. “You can't teach what Maddie Zager has naturally. They just have an ability to go to goal. They're hungry and very aggressive.”
After Triplett’s free kick score made it 2-0 with 2:26 left before the half, the Paladins continued to hold possession for most of the contest. While Pinecrest was camped in North’s half of the field for most of the game, that, along with the rainy conditions, actually began to impede the Paladins’ ability to score.
“When you play on half a field, there's no space,” Martelli said. “They had all their players, five backs, three midfielders and two forwards. We had a lot of nice chances in the first half that would have created more goals because there was more space. Then they sat in and that was it.”
All of Pinecrest's starters, Crain included, have club soccer experience. That lends itself well to defense, passing, one-on-one skills and the ability to finish offensively. The Paladins feel that if they continue to work on those strengths, they'll be in good shape.
“I think we're going to do really well this year,” Triplett said. "I think we'll go pretty far in the state tournament -- that's what our hopes are.”
Cummings had 12 saves for the Raiders. North only had one shot on goal for the game.
Pinecrest boys 2, North Forsyth 0
North Forsyth's boys had more scoring chances than their girls counterparts, but Pinecrest's boys took advantage of its scoring opportunities to secure the sweep. Brendan Kane gave the Paladins the lead with 45.2 seconds left in the first half. With 22:23 left in the second half, Connor Sassine broke away and kicked the ball into the net, tipping it off the outstreched arm of leaping North goalkeeper Gian Dev.