County Rivals Square Off Tonight at PHS
When the Pinecrest and Union Pines girls' soccer squads step on the pitch tonight at John Williams Athletic Complex, it will be the first time that any of the two schools' student-athletes have participated in the cross-county rivalry between the Vikings and Patriots.
Patriot head coach Larry Martin and Viking head coach Kevin Hayes both anticipate an electric evening.
"I don't think by any means that it will be an easy match," Martin said. "They seem to be a fairly well-balanced team. I think it's going to be an interesting match since it's been so long since we've played and it's hard to make comparisons."
Hayes coached the junior varsity boys at Pinecrest for three seasons.
"I am looking forward to being back at the stadium and that atmosphere," said Hayes. "It doesn't matter which side of the field you are on, the experience of a Pinecrest game is always a memorable one. I know many of the players through the Sandhills Youth Soccer League (SYSL) and my refereeing duties. I have known coach Martin for a long time and he has always built a strong program at Pinecrest. I have a great amount of respect for him and his players, and always enjoy the experience of a Pinecrest game."
Union Pines and Pinecrest have met three times in girls' soccer. The Patriots have won each encounter. The teams played two matches in 1999 with final scores of 9-0 and 4-0 and once in 2002, with the result being 8-0, meaning the Vikings have yet to score a goal in the history of the cross-county rivalry.
The last time the schools laced it up, the seniors from each team were in fifth or sixth grade. The sophomores and freshmen were still in elementary school and probably knocking around the kickball during recess. Several of the girls have grown up playing along side and/or against each other in SYLS and club soccer, but none have ever experienced a head-on encounter equal in enormity to this evening's event.
Both teams come into this year's edition of the renewed rivalry in the midst of compelling 2008 campaigns. Pinecrest is 4-0 in the Mid-Southeastern Conference and 5-1-1 overall. The Patriots have outscored their opponents 37-10 on the year and have three shutout victories. The team's only loss was a close 3-1 contest with J.T. Hoggard, which is currently ranked ninth in the 4-A North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association (NCSCA) poll.
Hayes feels that Pinecrest star-striker Latanya Cain will play a major role in the match's outcome.
"She has great skill and speed and will be hard to stop," he said of Cain. "Defending Cain would be a challenge for any team and we are no exception, but the biggest thing to remember is that she is just one player. Most all of their team play centers on her. They are strong in the back and play a very good possession game, but she is the go-to player. We met Pinecrest at a preseason scrimmage without Cain and we were able to play them pretty even. If we can stop her, we can compete against the rest."
Limiting Cain will certainly prove to be a tall order for the Vikes. The senior leads the Patriots in goals with 18. She has 130 so far in her Pinecrest career and has already signed on to play at North Carolina State University this the fall. Fellow Pat senior Morgan Maples is a distant second with six goals on the year.
Union Pines, a 3-A school, comes into the match with a 3-1 record in the Cape Fear Valley Conference and is 5-2-1 overall. The Vikings have collected four shutout wins and have outscored their opponents 17-9. Union Pines started the season at 3-0 and ranked 15th in the NCSCA before an injury bug hit and saw the team go 1-2-1 in a two-week stretch. The Vikes fell 1-0 to a solid 4-A Terry Sanford team last week.
The Vikings and Patriots have had one mutual opponent this year in the 4-A Hoke County Bucks (7-2-1). Union Pines beat the Bucks 4-0 in the season opener and Pinecrest defeated them 4-1 earlier this month.
Martin feels the Vikings' performances against Hoke and Terry Sanford are quite telling.
"Those are two pretty good teams," he said, "so those results indicate that they (Union Pines) has a good team (too)."
Hayes admitted that the Vikings are going into the matchup as the underdogs.
"They are the favorite. Everyone knows that," he said, "but our senior goalkeeper, Jessie Puszynski, is very strong with lots of experience and will keep us in the game. Kayla Lively never gives up or slows down in the midfield and Brittany Thurlow has great ball skills up top and is always calm under pressure. Overall, our team plays with heart and desire -- we have something to prove (tonight) and that is when we play our best."
In a bonus for parents of youth soccer players, it will be SYSL night at Pinecrest. That means any youth wearing his or her soccer jersey will be admitted free of charge. As tradition stands, at halftime of the game all the kids will participate in a parade, marching onto the pitch and to midfield. The ceremony is always an especially enjoyable part of the evening for Martin.
"Hopefully a lot of kids will be coming out and taking part in the evening's events," he said.
Both teams are coming into the clash at less than a 100 percent.
Pinecrest senior Amber Fernandez recently resumed practicing after missing five matches with a knee injury, and freshman Claire Epling is expected to miss several weeks due to a sore groin. Union Pines captain and leading scorer Thurlow, with four goals and three assists, is still recovering from an ankle sprain, while sophomore Anna Pilson has been playing all year with a first-degree ligament tear in her right ankle.
The match is schedule to start at 7 p.m.
Charlie Bergmann contributed information for this story
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