By DENNY SEITZ
When David Smith interviewed to be the soccer coach at Hough High two years ago, his vision included a group of close-knit, talented athletes with parents who supported their kids and their school.
He envisioned a place where hearts and championships could be won.
“Being part of a community … being part of a group … with the three small towns we have up here … this is what I’d hoped for,” Smith said after the Huskies defeated Providence, 3-1, in the state 4A semifinal Wednesday.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years, and this situation is what I’d always hoped for.”
The Huskies got goals from Sarah Moon, Morgan Byrne and Hannah Robinson, and another stellar performance from goalkeeper Marnie Merritt to improve to 25-0-1 on the season.
Wednesday’s win was the team’s 24th straight victory and sets up a dream match-up between Hough and Green Hope (of Cary) that pits not only the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in North Carolina but the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the entire country, as voted by ESPN in its recently-released Fab 50 poll.
“I’m not sure that’s happened before,” said Robinson, whose 16th goal of the season – a header that caromed off the post and past the Providence goalkeeper – gave the Huskies a 3-0 lead with five minutes left in the game, all but clinching the second-year school’s first trip to the state finals.
Smith was ecstatic after the game, not just because of the victory but because of the perfect storm of successes that were celebrated at Hough on Wednesday. At halftime of his soccer game, members of the Huskies swim team were introduced and recognized as the school’s first team state champions. Midway through the second half, the bus carrying the school’s baseball team pulled into the parking lot after an upset victory earlier Wednesday night helped them advance to the N.C. 4A baseball state semifinals.
Then, his team continued its winning ways, setting up Saturday’s 11 a.m. winner-take-all showdown against Green Hope, which is 26-0.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Merritt, a sophomore who may have been considered the one question mark on the Huskies team this season after replacing all-state performer Emily Rusk. Smith says there isn’t a better goalkeeper in the state.
Meanwhile, five Huskies seniors were sophomores at North Mecklenburg High two years ago when the Vikings won the state championship: Robinson, Allison Vest, twin sisters Lindsey and Morgan Byrne and Alison Stearns.
“Our sophomore year, we felt like that was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing,” Robinson said. “But now we’re back.”
Stearns assisted on the final two goals on Wednesday.
Providence’s lone goal came on a penalty kick with just over a minute left in the game by Tanner Murphy.
“This win means so much for us,” Robinson said. “We are just really, really excited right now. This has been our goal since the beginning of the year.”