Commentary

Future looks bright for state champs

Updated: June 1, 2009, 4:46 PM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

Defense wins championships.

And that was ever so evident this past weekend at the North Carolina girls' soccer championships, where Leesville Road (Raleigh, N.C.) won its second straight Class 4A title and White Oak (Jacksonville, N.C.) claimed a state-record fourth consecutive Class 3A crown.

The North Carolina powers were a combined 45-0-3 and allowed only 11 goals while posting 39 shutouts. Both teams went through five rounds of state playoffs without giving up a goal.

"We don't play a defensive scheme," Leesville Road coach Paul Dinkenor said of the team's 3-5-2 formation. "But once we get ahead of somebody we were tough to beat."

"We knew we would be able to score but our defense really stood out and gave us the opportunity to go up two or three goals," White Oak coach David Carroll said. "Once we got up two goals, it took the fight away from a lot of teams."

Although defensive play was central to both teams' title runs, Leesville Road and White Oak went about their state title victories in vastly different ways.

Leesville Road capped its season with a shootout victory over previously undefeated Ardrey Kell (Charlotte) following a scoreless draw through regulation and two overtimes. White Oak, meanwhile, humbled Kings Mountain 5-0 in the final.

For Leesville Road, defensive play was critical for a team that had trouble finishing. Take away three six-goal outings and Leesville Road managed 44 goals in 23 matches.

"It's not like we didn't create opportunities, we just didn't finish," Dinkenor said. "We allowed teams to hang around."

Meanwhile, White Oak was putting away its 3A foes. Led by state Player of the Year and North Carolina-Wilmington signee Stephanie Rose, White Oak averaged more than seven goals a match. Rose's final two high school goals in Saturday's final gave her 50 for the season and exactly 200 for her four-year varsity career.

"It's been a really good run," Rose said of the past 12 months, during which time she's been on back-to-back high school state championship teams, helped her club team win the U.S. Club Soccer national title and earned high school player of the year honors.

Rose was part of a talent lot of five four-year varsity players for White Oak who came to the school with high expectations. The others are goalkeeper Rea Segiavino (Pembroke State signee), midfielder Krystal Tucker (UNC-Wilmington) and defenders Patrice Clarke and Rebecca Roberts.

White Oak's undefeated streak stands at 40 matches, which includes a 29-match win streak.

"We had a big group who had been playing together for years," Rose said. "We came in as freshmen and wanted to win, but I never thought we'd win state our freshman year. Then we won as sophomores and juniors, and now this is the icing on top of a perfect four years of high school soccer."

With only four seniors in the starting lineup, White Oak figures to be a state title contender again next season. Midfielder Shelby Carroll, who has committed to Elon, leads a talented underclass cast that includes sophomore defender Amanda Fenton and junior defenders Rebecca Johnston and Caitlin McLaughlin. Carroll and Fenton were also part of the OCSA Crew club team with Rose and Tucker that won the national title.

The stakes might be even higher for Leesville Road next year.

Its lone two starting seniors -- Nitang Jones (UNC-Greensboro) and Michelle Jewell (Appalachian State) -- have signed with NCAA Division I programs. Three of the team's juniors are already committed, including defenders Claudel Pilon (North Carolina State) and Nicole Jewell (Northwestern). Factor in the team's top scorer was a freshman (Caroline Gentry), and Dinkenor knows he has the makings for a special team in 2010. Leesville Road goes into next year with a 35-match undefeated streak.

"It could be unreal," said the veteran coach who came out of a two-year retirement to re-inherit the program in 2007. "It's a little scary, but it's a fun scary."

Dinkenor has coached high school soccer for 27 years and did a 12-year stint as Leesville Road's boys' coach in the fall and the girls' coach in the spring. Following the spring season of 2006, he resigned as coach of both programs. During his tenure, Leesville Road's boys' team won three state titles. Its girls' program always seemed to play second fiddle to fellow local power Broughton (Raleigh). Dinkenor returned to coach the girls in the spring of 2007. Since that time, Leesville Road is 67-7-4, winning state titles the past two seasons. The program's last postseason loss was to Apex (N.C.) in May 2007, and Apex went on to complete an undefeated state title-winning campaign that year.

"I didn't think I'd ever come back [to coaching high school]," Dinkenor said about his 2006 resignation. "But I'm glad I did."