Louisa May Alcott, author of the classic novel “Little Women” once said that, “Rivalry adds so much to the charms of one’s conquests.”
For the Class AAA sixth-ranked North Hall girls soccer team, winning its third consecutive Area 7-AAA title care of its tenth shutout of the season, a 4-0 victory Thursday night at The Brickyard, was special.
“The expectation level coming into this season, having to overcome that, was the first of our small hurdles,” North Hall coach Jerome Samuels said.
The fact that they won the program’s third straight area championship by beating a fierce rival in Class AAA No. 13-ranked Gainesville, however, added even more charm to the conquest.
“The girls expect Gainesville (10-4, 7-2 Region 7-AAA) to be the toughest day out,” Samuels said. “Every year it’s a nail biter and the game brings the best out of everybody.”
When this year’s two senior classes were freshman, the North Hall-Gainesville game ended in a tie. Their sophomore year, North Hall (11-1, 9-0) won 1-0 and in 2007, their junior year, the Lady Trojans won in penalty kicks in overtime.
This year’s game looked to be headed down the same path the games the previous three years had gone when, at the end of the first half, neither team had managed to score.
That’s saying a lot considering that, combined, North Hall and Gainesville have 91 goals on the year.
“We were too conservative and defensive in the first half,” Samuels said. “I had to tell the girls at halftime to stop worrying about losing because doing that won’t get you a win.”
North Hall had 11 shots on goal in the first half to Gainesville’s three and was held scoreless because of the inspired play of senior goalkeeper Evelyn Murray plus senior defenders Laura Demby and Claire Kannapell.
Murray had five saves in the first half, 12 on the game, including a diving stop in the tenth minute to hit the ball with her left hand and push it just outside the goal and a double save with two minutes to go in the half, when she deflected a shot by North Hall’s Bradee Burell and then recovered to stop a shot by Sarah Carlton, ending the Lady Trojans possession by diving on the ball in the box.
“We were anxious to see (Laura) Demby and (Evelyn) Murray,” Samuels said. “They are clearly standouts and can change a game with their play.”
The plea by Samuels to his team at halftime to play to win instead of playing to not lose was clearly taken to heart as North Hall scored five minutes into the second half off the foot of Meredith Clark to break the scoreless tie. Clark was the recipient of a corner kick placed into the box by sophomore Allie Wright.
Fitting to the intense rivalry theme, Clark had, before Thursday night, scored only two other goals in her career, both against Gainesville.
The defensive juggernaut in the first half turned one sided in the second half as North Hall’s offense put the pressure on Demby, Murray and company.
The Lady Trojans second goal came at the 11-minute mark in the second half when Laura Lane found an open Ashley Lackey, who drove the ball in from 15 yards out to put her team up 2-0.
A line-drive cross by Carlton from just outside the right side of the box assisted on the third goal by North Hall with four minutes to play. Heather Strickland was on the receiving end of the good ball and one-touched it out of mid-air into the goal.
Lackey scored her second goal, and the Lady Trojans’ fourth of the match with 30 seconds left when, off a well-placed corner kick by Wright, she nailed a header into the goal.
“We made the adjustments that we needed to make at halftime,” Samuels said, “and it showed with the way we came out.
“We need to come back from spring break still in condition to make a run in the playoffs,” Samuels said. “I have given the girls a workout because we play East Coweta right off the bat and they are a fabulous 5-A team and then we have Lumpkin County.”
North Hall returns to action at 6 p.m. April 15 at East Coweta while Gainesville next plays host to Oglethorpe County at 5:30 p.m. April 11.