GREENSBORO — The best season in the young history of Cleveland girls soccer came to a close Wednesday night in the third round of the class 3A state playoffs amid a flurry of Northern Guilford goals.
The Rams, who had advanced to the playoffs in each of their first three seasons but never made it past the first round, fell behind early against the Nighthawks and never recovered in an 8-0 loss.
Northern Guilford, the East No. 3 seed, scored in the third minute of the game and was ahead 3-0 by the midway point of the first half.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” second-year Cleveland coach Marissa DiMarco said. “They wanted it more tonight than us and it showed. They were a very good team, very well coached. You could tell they all played club, they played together. They had speed, skill, they were the total package.”
Northern Guilford (18-2 and champion of the Mid-State Conference), which had outscored its first two playoffs opponents by a combined 15-0 score, jumped on top on a goal by Nicole Bracey just over two minutes into the game. The Nighthawks went ahead 2-0 in the 13th minute and never looked back.
“After those first two goals, my girls kind of shut down,” DiMarco said. “If we wouldn’t have had those and maybe scored right off the bat, it might have been a different game. It’s frustrating.”
Cleveland (15-6-1, East No. 6 seed) rolled through the Two Rivers Conference with a 10-0 record and won its first two playoff games to advance further than any previous Rams squad. That is what senior Courtney Morris will remember.
“We haven’t gone past the first round,” said Morris, a four-year starter. “This is definitely a step up. I’m very proud to be on this team.”
The early goals took a toll on the Rams, Morris said.
“The first goal, we kind of thought, ‘It’s OK, we’ll get it back,’ ” Morris said. “That’s what happened in the second round (in a 4-2 victory over Eastern Alamance). When the second goal came in, it kind of hit us in the face.”
Northern Guilford led 5-0 by halftime and never let Cleveland up for air, outshooting the Rams 23-4.
The letdown by the Rams once they fell behind was uncharacteristic of the team, DiMarco said.
“I could tell their heads went down after goal No. 2,” the coach said. “Instead of working together and trying to come back from it, we shut down. I hope we remember this feeling next year when it comes to playing (in the playoffs), that we don’t want to lose in the third round of the playoffs, that we want to keep going.
“To win a state championship is every high school player’s dream. It’s the best feeling that hopefully one day they will feel.”
Though disappointed in the finish, DiMarco was pleased with the season as a whole and optimistic about the future of the program.
“It’s been a wonderful season,” she said. “My seniors – Courtney Morris, Alexis McLeod, Shelby Davenport and Blair Witmer – have had a great four years. They have had a great season. I hate the way they had to end their high school careers.
“Each year we have gotten better and better. Last year, we were 18-2 but got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. Making it to the third round was a big improvement. Hopefully next year, we will build on this and keep on building.”
DiMarco said there are plenty of talented players returning to help make that happen.
“We have a lot of young girls,” she said. “Cassidy McNierney, a freshman, is our second leading scorer next to (junior) Emily Truelove. We have a lot of promising freshmen and sophomores.”