Hawks Take the Fifth

Charlotte Latin makes it five consecutive state girls soccer titles

by Aaron Garcia

The 2012 Charlotte Latin Hawks: N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A champions. Photo courtesy of Lee Horton

When his team’s first legitimate scoring opportunity caromed straight down off the crossbar and into the Greensboro Day goalkeeper’s arms roughly five minutes into the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A title game, Charlotte Latin girls soccer coach Lee Horton was reminded of a valuable lesson he’d learned during the previous four years, when his Hawks had won four consecutive state titles.

“One, you’ve got to be good,” said Horton. “But even when you’re good, you still have to have things go your way a little bit.”

That ideal again rang true midway through the second half, when a Greensboro Day attempt on goal ended the way the Hawks’ had: with a clang against the crossbar. The game remained knotted at 0 throughout regulation and two overtime periods until sudden death, when Latin’s Ashley Finke flicked a flip throw from Jayne Anne Imbrogno to senior Tyler Cooney, who had spent most of the week undergoing treatment for an injured hamstring. Cooney found the back of the net to win the game and give the Hawks their fifth consecutive state title.

“For a second, I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we have done it again!’” recalled Horton of the moment Cooney’s kick found net. “’I cannot believe we did it again! Five times in a row!’”

It was the first postseason goal allowed by Greensboro Day, whose streak of six consecutive titles was halted by Charlotte Latin’s 2008 state championship.

“We knew it was going to be a tight game, and it was,” said Horton.

The win improved the Hawks’ record to 18-2 on the season. The Latin championship roster also included Libby Lamb, Ellie Shield, Callie Kennedy, Cannon Clough, Sarah Barry, Rebecca Jones, Hannah Smith, Caroline Kelly, Perry Zollicoffer, Lily Kelly, Meaghan Shimota, Mackenzie Jones, Caroline Peters, Amma Okwara, Mary Lewis, Amanda Fine, Mia Kane, Abbe ­McCarter and Sarah Shea.

“They’re an amazing group of girls, and our depth was key to it all,” said Horton.

The Hawks spent much of the season as the top-ranked private-school squad in the state, according to ­eurosportscoreboard.com. However, Horton said his team’s turning point didn’t occur until the end of the season, after the Hawks dropped their regular-season finale to archrival Charlotte Country Day, 3-1, on May 8 and nearly fell to 16th-seeded North Raleigh Christian in the first round of the state playoffs before winning, 3-2.

“I was mad at (my players),” Horton said. “I said, ‘These last two games I thought you’ve played scared to lose.’ I said, ‘That’s not the way we want to play. Yeah, you want to extend this streak, but the fact of the matter is this team right here right now has never won a state championship.’

“I told them, ‘I want you to play for the joy and fun of hunkering down and winning a state championship for this team, rather than being afraid of ending the streak and not keeping it going.’ I thought the rest of the way, we did that. We were excited, and we played with passion and the desire to win.”

The Hawks rebounded to beat Durham Academy and Charlotte Country Day in the next two rounds by scores of 3-0, setting up the title game against Greensboro Day.

“This team, once they got to that point, they were not going to be denied,” Horton said.

While the 2012 title is the fifth in a row for Horton, the coach said this ­championship, given its exciting end, will always separate itself from the previous four.

“Certainly, in the excitement of it, the moment has got to be one of the best because winning in sudden victory like that is just crazy,” said Horton. “I think that’s the first time we’d done that with the girls. That certainly is up there.”

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