WENDELL — First-year coach Reid Byrd said he isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel.
Byrd, the sixth head coach in as many years for the West Johnston girls’ soccer team, is only trying to keep it turning.
That wheel was certainly hitting on all cylinders Wednesday night when the Wildcats dismantled North Johnston 9-0 in the semifinals of the Four Oaks Bank Cup. West Johnston, the defending champions of the season-opening tournament, will meet Cleveland in the championship game at a date and time to be determined.
The Wildcats led North Johnston 7-0 at halftime and then needed just over a minute to pocket the final two goals and end the game via the mercy rule. After defeating Cleveland 4-1 in their opener, the Wildcats have a 13-1 goal differential in just three halves of play.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel because it worked pretty well last year,” Byrd said, referring to the Wildcats’ 18-1-1 season a year ago.
Byrd inherited a team that includes plenty of firepower. Senior Heather Bittle led the team with 55 points last season (18 goals, 19 assists) and is joined by junior Mallory Barton (15 goals), senior Alaina Custer (13 goals), senior Kristin Power (10 goals) and junior Madison Covey (10 goals and 15 assists).
Against the Panthers, West Johnston picked up right where it left off a year ago. Covey notched two goals and two assists while Robin Pollard and Emily Rentz each netted a pair of goals. Custer scored a goal and added a pair of assists, Becky Meshaw had a goal to go along with an assist and Bittle rounded out the scoring with a goal of her own.
“We just want to keep things rolling like they had been and take advantage of the talent that the girls have and just move forward with that,” Byrd said.
North Johnston, a 2A school, knew that taming the 4A Wildcats wouldn’t be easy.
“It was great for us to play against a team of that caliber because it shows what we need to work on,” Panther coach Jody Edwards said. “It’s definitely a learning situation for us. I knew it would be a tough challenge for us but we’ll be fine, we’ll learn from it.”
The Panthers kept West Johnston at bay for the first seven minutes of the game but Covey’s goal from the slot opened the floodgates. The Wildcats tallied five goals in a 12-minute span, including three in less than three minutes. Two of the scores came just twenty seconds apart.
The Wildcats scored twice in the first 1:07 of the second half to reach the nine-goals they needed to end the game.
Hannah Stephenson earned the low-key shutout in goal for West Johnston.
“A lot of good teamwork tonight,” Byrd said. “A lot of good opportunities to get some of the new girls into the game and start creating some chemistry with the experienced girls, which is what we’ll need as we go deeper into the season.”