By Pete Zamplas- Who needs a fire-breathing dragon, to wreck havoc and reach the top? Undefeated Hendersonville Lady Bearcats in their Game of Thrones state title quest instead deploy exceptional speed and smarts, in their deep soccer state playoff run.
The West Region top seed played for the 2A regional title Tuesday versus second-seeded Lake Norman Charter, which KOed HHS on its turf a year ago. This was HHS’ home finale, after disposing of four prior playoff foes.
The Cats sought the crown not of Westeros of Thrones lore, but for the state’s western half. The other state semifinal pitted Carrboro and Clinton. The state title match is Saturday, May 25.
Convincing HHS playoff wins were over Marshville Forest Hills (by 10-2), North Davidson (5-0), Owen (1-0), then 3-0 over fourth-seeded Belmont South Point last Saturday. HHS (23-0-1) outscored foes 131-12 (5.5 to .5).
Senior Camryn Coggins registered shutouts in 14 of 24 contests, including on her 18th birthday May 15 — over quick Owen Warlassies (17-3-1).
Lady Bearcats are among local stars up for awards, at two recent area banquets. Sunday was the WNC Sports Awards Banquet, where North Henderson Morgan King won as a top scholar-athlete. Earlier, Kiwanis All-Stars of Henderson County honored standouts in nine spring and winter sports May 9 in The Chariot.
Lady Cats soccer and West Henderson volleyball (which won the elite WMAC) were nominated for best larger-school female team in a major sport. HHS senior soccer ballhawk and hoops point guard Eden Hawkins and West senior volleyballer Ashley Downer (over 1,000 career “digs”) were finalists for WNC larger-school top female athlete.
Multi-sport Kiwanis honorees include Hendersonville senior Maya Gash. Last Friday, Gash sparked the 4x200m relay to second at the state meet.
The next afternoon, she “Gashed” South Point in soccer. Gash scored HHS’ longest goal in ages by blasting a free kick from over 65 yards away. The ball bounced high up and over the helpless Red Raider keeper.
Gash anchors the HHS defense. A game earlier, she blazed in to pick off an Owen pass and prevent a point-blank shot. As Gash told The Tribune, getting the jump requires awareness, anticipation and reaction. Soph midfielder Caitlyn Barnwell is also adept in “marking” ball carriers.
Head coach Kayla Lindsey credits her defense “anticipating the pass, and cutting the angle” and “forcing only long shots.” She credits team “chemistry. The girls rely on each other.”
The young offense has a trio of 20-plus goal scorers in sophomores Aubrey Bish (29) and Ellie Bowen (23), and junior Nikki Schedivy (26). Bish has 17 assists. Bish opened scoring Saturday with a 35-yard boomer; she was fed by Hawkins.
Sophomore Miriam Smith leads HHS with 18 helpers. Her sister Martha Smith is one of merely four seniors on the squad. Martha popped the ball over a defender, to spring Bowen down the right side. Bowen warded off a big defender, to drill the ball it into the right side of the net on a tough side angle. All three goals were in an early three-minute flurry.
In contrast, the Owen game was a scoreless grinder for 73 minutes. Then Annabelle Grymrek scored the lone goal, shooting from the left side on a pass from Hawkins. Swift Grymrek solved the quick wandering Owen keeper, who time and again ventured far to barely beat Cats to the ball or poked it away. Her dare finally backfired. She rushed at Grymrek, and smashed into her — but after the shot rolled toward the net she left empty. “We can get by her” was the determined challenge of the keeper, said Bowen, who made several rushes to the ball.
Wrestling also distinguished Henderson County — especially for North Henderson. Heang Uy coaches North wrestlers. They placed, and had four of the nine wrestling Kiwanis all-stars. The team was among five finalists for WNC male Olympic sports; Pisgah wrestling won.
Morgan King of North was crowned WNC’s premier male scholar athlete, among larger schools, on Sunday. He beat out HHS soccer star Jack Moss, a fellow senior, and two others. King was 3A state runner-up for wrestlers 170 pounds or lighter, and was king of the West Region and WMAC. He went 47-10. North’s multi-sport star Anna Baldwin was up for WNC female top scholar athlete.
NHHS senior wrestler Joshua Feliz was a finalist for top WNC male athlete in an Olympic sport. He also was second at state, a WMAC champ, and was 43-6 with 26 pins. Senior Christian Robles (38-14) was a robo-pinner — putting away 31 of 38 victims. Sophomore Triston Norris (47-12, in 136 1b.) was also a Kiwanis all-star. Other Knight mat stars include seniors Jacob Allison (34-11, West Reg. champ) and Jose Rodriguez (25-5, third in West), and junior Kyle Randall (24-9), and soph Lazaro Vasquez (33-8) who both were WMAC champs.
Destiney Cairnes is fulfilling her destiny, in female empowerment. The West Henderson sophomore won gold in the state’s first-ever female-only wrestling invitational tourney — in the 132-pound class — in round-robin. She typically competed against males last winter. Cairnes told The Tribune she best enjoys “taking (withstanding) shots,” and “cradling” a foe’s head in her arms.
West’s Stephen Baynard (46-6, fourth at state in 145 lb.) and Jared Santiago (15-3) were also Kiwanis wrestling all-stars, along with East Henderson senior Sean Sprague (34-5, 2A state runner-up at 220 lb.) and HHS freshman Cayden Coggins (23-8, Mtn6 champ).
WNC scholarship winners include HHS track star Micaiah Darity, and West volleyballer Casey Brown. West junior Erin Holland got a Special Olympics Award.
Coaches got honors, too. Kiwanis awarded Jim Laughter a leadership award. “Pop” coached at Hendersonville Jr. High in the Sixties, and later assisted at HHS. He started Drysdale Elementary’s P.E., in ’72. His son B.J. Laughter is Drysdale’s principal, and also coached football at HHS. B.J. said his father instilled player confidence. “I felt ten feet tall, and bulletproof — that I could run through walls.”
The WNC Sports Awards Banquet is put on by MAAC, in the Omni Grove Park Inn. Three with local impact went into the WNC Sports Hall of Fame — coaches Tom Pryor (Edneyville girls’ hoops) and Carroll Wright (West FB), and East Henderson football and baseball star George “Tiger” Greene. Tiger played defensive back in the NFL for seven seasons, and for Western Carolina U (‘81-84). Banquet host Keith Jarrett, veteran sportswriter, recalled Greene with WCU leveling a foe then taunting “all day long!”
Greene at the banquet urged athletes to maintain good study habits in high school, to carry over into tougher college studies. Greene said of his pro football dream, “I knew I’d make it. I had a good support system.”