GREENSBORO — The Woods Charter girls soccer team waited exactly 365 days for its rematch with Christ the King in the 1A state final, but the threat of rain Saturday in Greensboro caused the game to be postponed until Sunday at 1 p.m.
The extra 19 hours did nothing but strengthen the resolve of the defending champion.
Spurred on by a goal early in the second half, Christ the King defeated Woods Charter, 1-0, to claim the 1A crown once again. It was the first time the Wolves (20-2-3) — who averaged 7.8 goals per game in their first four games of the playoffs — were shut out in a game since falling to Franklin Academy, 1-0, back on April 11.
Woods Charter head coach Graeme Stewart said after the game he was proud of his team’s effort, but he was equally frustrated by the lack of respect he thought Christ the King showed his team. Stewart also argued that the Crusaders’ ability to bring in talented players from across their district — as opposed to Woods Charter, which admits students based on a lottery system — gives their program more resources than the normal 1A school.
"I'm tired of hearing about what (Christ the King) can do,” Stewart said. “They're not a normal 1A team. They have players at every position. They're a 3A team in 1A. The reason we struggle sometimes is because we have some holes. We know that, because we're a normal-looking 1A team ... They thought they won it (coming into the game). They thought they were going to stroll, and it didn't work out that way."
The game between the Wolves and Crusaders was originally scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m., but an ongoing threat of inclement weather caused the NCHSAA to postpone the event after less than five minutes was played.
When the game was picked up Sunday afternoon, Woods Charter had possession via a corner kick, but the Wolves were unable to create a solid chance with the set piece. For the majority of the first half, the two teams took turns punting the ball to each other, with neither side able to string together more than one or two passes at a time.
The deadlock lasted a few minutes into the second half before Christ the King finally found the back of the net. After the Crusaders won a free kick in the attacking third, senior Elle Gorman whipped in a cross toward the back post which found the head of junior Brianna Pacholshi before careening into the goal.
With their backs pressed against the wall, the Wolves needed to throw numbers forward to try and tie the game, but Woods struggled to keep possession in the midfield after earning back the ball. Christ the King’s forwards, namely senior Katie Reyes, were also adept at holding the ball up and playing physically to keep it.
Woods Charter’s best player Sunday was junior Leyla Noronha, who has been the linchpin for the Wolves’ offensive attack all season. After scoring 50 goals as a sophomore in 2022, Noronha took on a new role this season as her team’s center attacking mid and was equally responsible for creating chances as she was finishing them. She finished the year with 28 goals and a team-high 25 assists.
While she was overpowered sometimes in the midfield, Noronha was always part of the conversation when Woods Charter put together some solid moments of possession. She was also tenacious on the defensive end, tracking from box to box to make sure her team didn’t concede a second goal in the game’s final half-hour.
Woods Charter’s best chance of the game came with just a few minutes remaining. The Wolves won a free kick from about 30 yards out, and Chloe Richard took a shot at goal to see if she could catch junior Christ the King keeper Elizabeth Navola napping. The shot had a solid pace and trajectory, but Navola was able to tip the ball over the crossbar to thwart the chance.
After the game, a visibly upset Noronha made it clear how she feels about losing to the same team twice in the state finals.
“We're so hungry,” Noronha said. “I'm actually very mad right now. I'm just looking forward to next season.”
Noronha will be one of several starters back for Woods Charter next spring as they look to get over the hump and secure the program’s first state championship. The Wolves will also welcome back a number of key attackers, such as rising sophomore Amelia Cherry (45 goals, five assists) and rising senior Sienna Gray (38 goals, 25 assists).
Among those graduating this offseason are midfielders Richard (15 goals, 11 assists) and Lucy Miller (13 goals, 14 assists) as well as defenders Megan Nowack and Maddie Sparrow.
In net, rising sophomore Wesley Oliver figures to start in net when the Wolves return to action next season. Oliver was a huge bright spot for Woods Charter in the 1A title game and improved throughout the season while making her first foray into goalkeeping.
"I'm so proud of Wesley,” Stewart said. “We didn't have a goalkeeper coming into the season. She and Paige both stepped up. Neither of them had played in goal before, and they both worked hard. They both played basketball, so we relied on that."
The Wolves figure to be a contender at the 1A level for the foreseeable future as long as Stewart remains in charge of the program. Since starting with the team in 2014, the head coach has racked up an overall record 134-50-8 and has led the team to two straight 1A championship game appearances.