Soccer Warhorses, Cats Sparkle in Playoffs - TribPapers

Soccer Warhorses, Cats Sparkle in Playoffs

Cooper King drills a penalty kick for a goal in round one. King kicks so hard that a line of four SW Randolph Cougars cringe and fearfully turn away, instead of standing ground to try a block. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Hendersonville – Davis Kendall scored nine of Owen’s 12 playoff goals to lead a Warhorse soccer stampede into round four of 2A playoffs, advancing the furthest among Buncombe or Henderson County schools.

Hendersonville Bearcats (16-3-3) are the next best by winning two rounds in 2A. The fourth seed’s season ended at home Monday losing 3-1 to swift fifth-seeded Newton-Conover (19-3-1). Red Devil junior Jesus “Chucho” Mejia opened scoring with his 34th goal. Guzman Maldonado scored the other two Devil goals. Mejia scored on a penalty shot. He swooped in to shoot it, after two teammates took turns faking the shot.

Cooper King scored the sole HHS goal, to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 14:29 left in the first half. The senior all-state star scored 39 goals in each of his last two seasons.

Charles D. Owen Warhorses (18-2-1) won three rounds. They are the tenth seed. They play on Thursday, Nov. 10 at sixth-seeded North Forsyth Vikings (17-5-2).

The Warhorses doubled up 15th-seeded Patton (18-5-1) by a 4-2 count, at home Monday. Kendall scored twice to account for half of Owen’s goals. The slick super sophomore has 44 goals in 2022. He scored three of Owen’s four goals in round one and all four goals in round two.

The Warhorses already advanced twice as far in playoffs as they did a year ago, when they were 17-3. This time they steamrolled West Stanly 4-1, and then won 4-2 at seventh seed Concord Robinson (20-3-1). Owen led 2-0 at halftime.

Meanwhile, Hendersonville blanked Southwestern Randolph 7-0 and Dalton McMichael 4-0 with senior Noah Pavão in goal. Head coach Melissa Villars-Nitsche told the team its play was often “phenomenal.” Senior playmaking defenseman Bobby Brown pointed out that round three is the furthest advancement in his (and King’s) four years in varsity playoffs. It is the program’s longest playoff drive in eight years.

Dynamic Duos

Owen and HHS both dominated their conferences. Owen was a perfect 10-0 in Western Highlands action under head coach Trei Morrison for the second season in a row. Hendersonville won the Mountain Foothills Crown at 12-0.

Owen and HHS each feature a “Dynamic Duo” of a red-hot, Batman-like alpha scorer and his Robin “Boy Wonder” sidekick. Kendall’s 44-goal season is supplemented by junior Elijah Caro, who had 19 entering this week. Leading Owen assist makers are Caro (13), junior Daniel Garcia (11) and Kendall (10).

The defense is so good that 6-foot-1 senior goalkeeper Nolan Swoap (0.6 GAA) needs to make an average of merely 1.8 saves. Owen shut out 15 opponents, including the last 11 in its regular season.

King of Dietz Field

Hendersonville’s Cooper King scored 32 goals in 18 regular season games. He finishes with 39 goals overall and 14 assists, and 93 varsity career goals and 38 assists. The “striker” forward scored at least half of HHS goals in playoff contests with four and then two goals.

King scored four times in the playoff-opening 7-0 win over the Southwestern Randolph Cougars on Halloween evening. He had a “natural hat trick” by scoring at least three times in a half. He did so in the first 30 minutes of the game. HHS led 4-0 at intermission, turning the Asheboro crew into ashes.

King dribbled in close from the right side to just in front of the net and slid a point-blank shot past sliding goalkeeper Jonathan Perez for his first goal.

Merely 1:21 later, lefty “Coop” blasted a penalty kick that curved just inside the side of the net. The Cougars realized how hard King kicks the ball. Thus, four Cougars who lined up to block the shot fearfully turned away as the ball blazed by instead of knocking them unconscious.

King’s third goal was his best. He was closely guarded as he dribbled in from the end zone’s left side to in front of the net. He dribbled past three Cougars — one after the other and one player two times. King blasted a shot past bulky Perez. King sizzled his fourth goal through Perez’s legs.

In round two, King took a long pass for a breakaway and scored two and a half minutes into the game. His second-half goal put HHS up 3-0 and more firmly in control. This was a beauty. King is 6-2 and stronger than a year ago. He remains very fast. He zoomed downfield, swooped in close, and smashed a shot into the net.

Moss is ‘Boss’

Harrison Moss, a junior, has 18 goals and 10 assists as a skilled midfielder. He drilled a shot past Perez on a sharp angle from the left side. He scored on a crisp penalty kick in round two for a 2-0 lead.

Coach Villars-Nitsche noted that Moss has been more aggressive and physical lately and is making more contact and power moves toward the net. “Harrison has been a finesse player. Now he’s using strength, too, to find his way to the net.”

It would be fitting if the dynamic duo of King and Moss dressed as Batman and Robin for that Halloween game. They said they liked those nicknames the Tribune gave them.

Israel Convento is another skilled scorer. He had two goals in round one. He got the initial goal with a hard left-footed shot just inside the left post, after stealing the ball. He fights hard to possess the ball. Bearcats with one assist each were Brown, King, Sam Kowalak, Tyler Nitsche, and Lane Melton.

Gabe Rollins scored the final goal in round two on a header in traffic off of an inbounds pass. The Cats are getting more emotional. Rollins yelled in joy after his goal. Moss and King bellowed out after King’s second goal.

Pavão Directs Teammates

Noah Pavão made nine saves versus SW Randolph. He robbed the McMichael Phoenix of a late goal with a “mid-level dive” to his left, as he worded it. He also stopped a penalty kick. Pavão’s best save recently was in preserving a 2-0 shutout over Patton to conclude the regular season. He made a crisp diving save to his right on a penalty kick with 40 seconds remaining.

Lanky 6-6 Pavão has a long reach, and quick reactions and footwork. Pavão grins about the Tribune calling him “The Riddler” since opponents usually cannot solve him. His jersey number of 00 is close to his goals against average of 0.282 entering Monday.

Pavão sees plays develop and shouts tips to teammates, Coach Villars-Nitsche noted. “He has a voice” as an in-game leader, she said. She said Pavão showed “composure” and a sharp focus throughout a contest.

In halftime gatherings, Bearcat players tell teammates what they saw that worked well and what to improve on. In round two, King saw some “frantic,” hurried kicks. He suggested that the Bearcats “calm down.” Moss urged that “we keep trying and not give up” in “50-50” battles.

Coach Villars-Nitsche said the keys are to gain “possession” and “attack with numbers.” She told the players at halftime of the opener that “you’re giving them nothing!” Pavão praised HHS’s defense at halftime on Halloween. “We stopped them every time!”

Coach Villars-Nitsche told the Bearcats after the defeat Monday that “we’re proud of you, and the effort you made.”