Charlotte Latin won 18 consecutive games down the stretch of state championship
CHARLOTTE – For the Charlotte Latin girls soccer team, their mission this season was simple but the drive to make it a reality was far more complex.
The Hawks had won each of the previous three NCISAA 3A championships, and Charlotte Latin’s sensational senior class wanted to go out as champions one more time.
But it wasn’t going to be easy.
Charlotte Latin opened with a gauntlet of a schedule that featured perennial powers Charlotte Catholic and Hough among its first three opponents. The Hawks tied Hough and lost 4-2 to Charlotte Catholic, who was ranked as high as third in the nation by Maxpreps.com during the season.
But long-time Hawks coach Lee Horton wasn’t worried with a 1-1-1 start although powers such as Georgia 3A state champion Westminster, Missouri state Final Four participant Eureka and three matches against Providence Day remained on the schedule.
Most of that confidence came from the seniors, and with very good reason.
North Carolina commits Claudia Dickey and Mary Elliott McCabe along with Ellie Norman had been key contributors for the Hawks for each of the three previous championships. South Carolina commit Sutton Jones and Julia Gass joined the Hawks title runs as sophomores, and together the five formed an extremely tight-knit and talented core.
They led the Hawks to 18 consecutive wins down the stretch and a No. 1 ranking in the state by both Maxpreps.com and Topdrawersoccer.com. The Hawks simply refused to let Latin lose.
“My senior class is pretty ridiculous.It has to be one of the best in the country,” Horton said. “To win 18 in a row isn’t something I can say I expected, but when you look at the group that I have, I’m not necessarily surprised.
“These girls’ first expectation is to win states every year now and it was no different this season. We’ve now won nine of the past 11 titles, so that’s the standard and that’s what they’re supposed to do. I think the younger players sometimes don’t want to screw it up, but these seniors were so good with the younger players and the new players. The seniors took them in and made them feel so comfortable. They led them from the beginning, and you don’t get that all of the time, but we were fortunate that we did. Those five girls made all of the difference.”
This season McCabe became the program’s all-time leading scorer after finding the back of the net 43 times while adding 14 assists. She finished her career with 117 goals and 51 assists.
Jones became the program’s all-time assists leader with 65 during her career and 24 this season. She also scored nine goals each of the past two seasons and finished her career with 21 goals.
Dickey was an all-American goalkeeper who allowed eight goals over the course of 59 games in net, for an average of 0.39 goals per game. Dickey switched to playing in the field in 2017 and has been a key midfielder ever since.
Norman came back from injury for the final 10 games of this season and was a huge spark. Gass, along with sophomore all-state goalkeeper Paige Nurkin, were key defenders for a nearly impenetrable defense.
“Julia is going to Wake Forest, but she could be playing Division I soccer if she wanted to and so could Ellie because she’s that good,” Horton said. “We switched and put Sutton next to Claudia at holding mid and once we did that it was smooth sailing for us. They both look for the same things in the way they play. Claudia is really a goalkeeper, but in the field she’s so good for us. She dominates in the air and has that point guard mentality because she sees the field in its entirety and passes the ball so well. Sutton is the same way, so we used both of them back there and people just could not penetrate our back line with them playing back there.
“And then Mary Elliott was tremendous. She has a really good chance to be an all-American and is in the running for the Gatorade Player of the Year. To have those five seniors leading us, I felt pretty good about everything.”
After the 1-1-1 start, the Hawks allowed just seven goals over their last 18 games while scoring 81.
Junior Anna Calloway scored 14 goals and added 11 assists and sophomore Sophia Bellavia had five goals and added nine assists to help lead the offense, but when it mattered most the team turned to McCabe for the bulk of the scoring.
And she delivered.
“The girls knew what we wanted to look for and they agreed with it, so we were almost always playing to our strengths,” Horton said. “Now sometimes I wished some of the other girls would take the shot they could have had during the year, but they bought into the way we wanted to play and our seniors took care of it from there.”
That formula worked as the Hawks knocked off Greensboro Day 5-0 and got past North Raleigh Christian 6-0 to reach the finals against rival Providence Day.
Latin had handed Providence Day both of its losses on the season despite the Chargers playing a schedule that included major powers such as Class 4A runner-up Myers Park, Charlotte Catholic, Fort Mill and Weddington among others.
“Providence Day had a very good team and were still ranked very high at the end of the season, but they were young,” Horton said. “On the other hand, we had a seasoned team with our seniors, so I felt confident that these girls weren’t going to take any chances and weren’t going to overlook anyone. They wanted to end this thing the way they started it.”
In the championship game both teams played well, but neither could break a scoreless tie for much of the first half until McCabe scored with about four minutes to go.
She would strike again four minutes into the second half, but being up 2-0 is not a place Horton said he feels all that comfortable.
“For Mary Elliott to score that first goal was a huge plus before we went into the locker room, but Providence Day was putting up a battle and their keeper was playing really well,” Horton said. “Four minutes into the second half Mary Elliott scored again, and that put a huge weight on Providence Day’s back. It was 80 degrees and it was muggy out, so they probably weren’t feeling too good. But then I got worried because in the first 10 minutes of the second half we hit the post and the crossbar probably five times. We just couldn’t get that third goal, and I’ve always told my girls that 2-0 is the worst score because you feel like you’re in control, but if they get that goal they’re right back in it. That’s exactly what happened in the championship. They got that goal and cut it to 2-1 and they got excited and had that momentum back on their side.”
After Morgan Hart’s goal for the Chargers, Calloway put the game away with about four minutes to play with another Charlotte Latin goal.
The Hawks would win their fourth straight title 3-1 and those five seniors can now ride off into the sunset as four-time state champions.
“It’s a tribute to the strength and the unity of the players. They went out there and they earned it,” Horton said. “I felt the pressure in that game. To lose with this group would have been horrible because we had the best group, but that doesn’t mean you always win. Especially so playing a team for the third time. They could have had a letdown, but instead they rose to the occasion.
“I’m very proud of the whole team, but those girls who have done it for four years in a row makes me especially pleased for them. They were the heart and soul of this team all year and now they are four-time state champions. It’s an incredible accomplishment.”