Just weeks after moving up to the varsity squad from JV, West Forsyth freshman Rachel Kempski walked on the field at North Gwinnett High School with her new team to face the Bulldogs, who had lost just three times this season.
It was a daunting task, but early in Wednesday night’s second round playoff matchup, the Wolverines played well enough defensively and were on the receiving end of some lucky breaks that kept their early deficit at 1-0.
Still, West needed a scoring play to even it up before the half — those chances had been hard to come by. With 2:18 until the break, Kempski took a long pass near the left side of the net and shot the ball towards North Gwinnett’s goalkeeper. She went to the ground and corralled the ball, but not before it crossed the line. After a very brief pause, Kempski was awarded the goal, firing up the Wolverines heading into the half.
“If that didn't go in, I was going to be mad,” Kempski said.
Although they continued to play fairly well defensively, West ultimately couldn’t build on that moment. North Gwinnett scored a goal in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and another Bulldogs score late handed the Wolverines a 3-1 loss. West ends its season in the second round for the second straight year, and finishes the year at 11-7-1.
“To go up and tie it, I was like, ‘We're in this thing,’” West coach Jason Galt said. “In the second half, their energy was a little more than ours. I told the girls I was proud of them – they accepted me as their coach this year. I thought we had lot more positives than negatives.”
West goalkeeper A.J. Needham was quite busy in what turned out to be her final high school game. With 32:59 left in the first half, a shot from the North Gwinnett’s Aliah Kitchens sneaked past a diving Needham to put West down a goal, but for the rest of the first half, she was solid.
The Bulldogs missed some chances, namely a misplayed ball on a one-on-one try from Kitchens with 20 minutes until the midway point. That ultimately didn’t hurt them, with North Gwinnett scoring off a corner kick with 32:59 left to play and notching the securing goal with 6:01 left.
“I think (in) the first half we were solid,” Needham said. “I think we started out the second half a little soft. They scored and then it was just scrappy from there.
“It's sad because it’s the last time I'm going to be sharing the pitch with them. I’m happy to see what's next for them. I hope they take the loss as motivation next year.”
The loss certainly hurts, but Galt is already excited by what he’s seen in his first year at West. The Wolverines lose two seniors, but with a young team full of underclassmen like Kempski, they’re looking forward to seeing what year two under Galt will be like.
“(They've) learned me and learned my style, and (I've learned) them,” Galt said. “I like us going into next year.”