Fairview – Kennedy Holgate played the soccer game of her life in scoring both A.C. Reynolds goals on long free kicks Friday night, as the Lady Rockets defeated Asheville 2-1 at home in winning three playoff games last week.
The triumph over the local rival propelled Reynolds (15-2) to within one more victory at home — where it has been unbeaten — to reach the 3A state championship game this upcoming Saturday. Round four was on Tuesday — beyond the Tribune press time — versus unbeaten Concord Cox Mill (16-0-1). That was the West Region title game. Cox Mill averages a lopsided score of 6.7-0.2.
Reynolds Lady Rockets won the 3A state title in 2015 under Patrick Gladys. He has led soccer for Rockets and Lady Rockets since 1999, throughout this Millennium.
Fourth-seeded ACR was at home through four rounds this spring as the highest remaining seed. Reynolds and other conference champs had their seeds drawn randomly.
Reynolds and Asheville split 1-0 wins in the regular season, setting up the playoff showdown. They finished atop the Western Mountain Athletic Conference at 12-2 — a half-game ahead of T.C. Roberson (12-3 overall).
Both TCR playoff games ended 2-1, in overtime — a win at South Iredell, then a loss at Cox Mill in two OTs.
AHS: First Blood
Asheville (14-3) was the aggressor for most of the first half. The Cougars got first to many loose balls, controlled the midfield as they typically do, kept ACR away from their net, but mustered few scoring chances of their own.
Yet, Asheville scored the first goal. Olivia Agan drove deep, nearing the right side of the net. The sophomore drilled a shot into that side of the net — seven minutes before halftime.
The Lady Cougars — coached by Mike Flowe — thrive in low-scoring, ball-control contests such as in their three playoff games. They won a shootout 2-1 in their playoff opener at Northwest Cabbarus and broke a 3-3 deadlock. AHS then edged Watauga 1-0, as Agan scored in the final minute.
Holgate Scores Twice
Reynolds sapped Cougar’s momentum by tying the game four minutes after the AHS goal – also merely three minutes before halftime. Senior midfielder Holgate lobbed a free-kick up the middle from the AHS 40 yard line. It bounced into the middle of the goal box, in front of the net.
Meghan Kearns of ACR tried to deflect it in. She nearly got to the ball. So, she drew AHS goalkeeper Anna Hamner out of the net to try to cut off shooting angles, and she possibly distracted Hamner and partially shielded the view of the oncoming shot. Hamner, an exceptional goalkeeper, whiffed grasping at the ball as it bounded by her into the net.
Coach Gladys agreed it is disorienting for a goalkeeper when foes charge the net and limit the view. He is quite proud of such pressure, and the team’s intensity and persistence in this playoff match with a rival.
“That’s a goal toward state” — in the quest for a championship — Holgate said to herself right after she tied the game. She also told The Tribune was surprised her long blast went in. She said that the first goal boosted Rocket spirits, and after it “we were attacking more.”
Addie Porter said the Lady Rockets rallied to “connect as a team.”
Holgate struck again – this time for the game-winning goal – after most of the second half was a scoreless logjam at midfield. Her free-kick was more of a liner and from even further away — from midfield. She again placed it perfectly — for a crisp bounce into the far left side of the net, past diving Hamner. Halle Skibo of ACR crossed in front of the net and — like Kearns earlier — nearly tipped in Holgate’s shot.
That tying goal came with just under 18 minutes to play. ACR stepped up its attack to keep the ball mostly in the Asheville zone the rest of the way. Reynolds keeper Grace Laws, a junior and daughter of head football coach Shane Laws, fended off Asheville’s few remaining challenges.
Holgate said playing ball-controlling Asheville is always a “mental” challenge, in addition to physical prowess. Halle Skibo, a junior midfielder, said it is “tough” tangling with the Cougars, and it was quite a “team win.”
Another Kennedy — former President John Fitzgerald Kennedy — once urged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.“ Kennedy Holgate seeks to do for her team, as a playmaking midfielder. She is usually in a supporting role for higher-profile teammates, such as her buddy Addie Porter. They are fourth-year varsity soccer standouts.
Still, Holgate said she relished her rare day in the spotlight, and “loves the attention” she got from teammates and media. Holgate is the team’s fourth-leading goal scorer, with nine tallies.
Vanderbilt-bound senior forward Addie Porter has amassed 25 goals and 13 assists, and Skibo has 22 goals and ten assists through last weekend. Lanky Porter scored five goals per game in two of the first four contests in 2021. Last week, Porter scored five total goals in the first two playoff contests. She scored all three goals in the opener — a 3-0 win over Jesse Carson from China Grove.
Porter and Skibo each scored twice as ACR booted Hickory St. Stephens 6-1, two days later, on May 5th. Also scoring in round two were both ACR Kennedys — Holgate and Kennedy Porter, Addie’s sophomore sister. Addie Porter and sophomore Candice Birchfield each had two assists.
Swift sophomore Katie Purnell has a double-double this season with 10 goals and 13 assists.
Skibo tended after the game to her nose bleed. It was from smashing into a Lady Cougar early on, as they converged and were “fighting for the ball.” Skibo got a yellow card penalty. She said while focused on the ball, she did not see the oncoming foe.