Local teams will be kicking tonight

May 15—Many local sports fans will be hitting the road tonight as the Grace Christian and Lee County women's soccer teams both travel for state playoff matches.

For Grace, a trip to what would be a third consecutive NCISAA state championship match is on the line. For Lee, the opportunity is there to continue the most successful season in program history, and even to make a run at a title itself. Both teams will step onto the field tonight as underdogs, but as very live ones with a real chance to pull the upset.

Grace's match kicks off at 4:30 p.m. today, and Lee's at 6:30.

GRACE CHRISTIAN AT CAPE FEAR ACADEMYThe teams already know each other.

Both teams were in their second match of the regular season when Grace made a trip down to Wilmington to face the Hurricanes on March 7. Cape Fear (18-1) has been the top-ranked 3A team in the NCISAA for much of this season and hasn't been challenged often, but Grace managed to do so.

The Hurricanes exploded for three first-half goals and led 3-1 at the break, but a second-half goal by Serenity McNair put Grace back into the fight after halftime. Unfortunately for the Lady Crusaders, they could never get another goal and pull even.

Although both teams have rated among the best private-school teams in the state since 2021, they had not been on each other's radar until this season, when Grace moved up a class for the second year in a row and joined Cape Fear as a 3A school. The Lady Crusaders had been a 1A final four team in '21, then won the 1A title a year later and finished as state runner-up last year as a 2A team, when Grace lost in a shootout in the final after getting there as a 6 seed.

Another step up this season has proven no problem for the Lady Crusaders, who lost longtime head coach Nate Rhine back in December. Rhine left to take a college coaching position in South Carolina, but men's coach Brian Smith took the reins and Grace has not missed a beat. Grace lost just three times year, to the Nos. 1 and 2 3A teams, CFA and Forsyth Country Day, and once to state homeschool runner-up DASH. However, Grace beat everyone else it faced except for a draw with 2A power O'Neal. The Lady Crusaders defeated homeschool state champion New Life Camp and North Moore, the only local public school willing to schedule them. A 5-1 win over Gaston Christian moved the team, seeded fourth in the tournament, into today's semifinals.

Cape Fear blew through the NCISAA Coastal Plains Conference without a loss this season, even though the team is exceptionally young. Their only defeat came to 4A Charlotte Latin, the No. 2 team in the state regardless of classification, on March 23. As the top seed, the Hurricanes also had a double-bye and beat Southlake Christian 4-1 in Saturday's quarterfinals.

The only common opponent for the two teams, other than each other, is John Paul II Catholic, who Grace beat 3-2 on April 9 and CFA beat 1-0 on April 19 and 2-0 11 days after that.

Cape Fear's attack is led by four players, freshman Claire Furmadge (17 goals, 9 assists); sophomore Milly Kelley (15 goals, 4 assists); freshman Georgie McGrath (15 goals, 6 assists); and freshman Lucy Lauber (9 goals, 13 assists). Freshman keeper Naomi Shanewise has an 0.74 GAA this season.


Win or lose, the 2024 Lady Yellow Jackets have already had the best season in their program's history. Lee has 22 wins this season, matching the highest win total of any team in the state. It won the season series from county rival Southern Lee, won the season series over both Moore County rivals, and won the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament.

However, this doesn't mean the Lady Jackets are satisfied. Every win sets a new school record, so why not set a few more?

To go on, Lee will have to get past All-American Conference champion Hunt tonight. The Wilson-based school rates virtually even in the MaxPreps system with the Lady Jackets, and both teams are on long winning streaks. Lee County (22-4) has won eight in a row, and Hunt (16-4-1) has won nine straight. The Warriors downed Croatan 4-0 in Monday's first round, while Lee was blanking First Flight 6-0.

Hunt started off with a very tough early-season slate, starting off 0-2-1. The Warriors lost to 4A Middle Creek and Hoggard by a goal each, then beat 4A Hopewell 2-1, and tied 3-3 with Union Pines down in Cameron. The Lady Vikings and Middle Creek are their only common opponents with Lee.

The Warriors walked the dog in conference play, losing just once, a 2-1 setback at West Johnston on April 15. Hunt won the AAC by two games over runner-up and city rival Fike, and its only other loss was a non-league battle with 4A Millbrook in the middle of the conference campaign. Like Lee, Hunt has just one loss to a team classified below 4A this season, and like Lee, it avenged that defeat.

The winner will face the winner of the game between Dixon and Union Pines in the next round.

Hunt has five players who have scored in double figures this season, led by junior Mariah Polk with 40 goals and nine assists. The top creator is senior Kate Conoley, with 13 goals and 18 assists. Polk's 40 goals ties her with Southern Lee's Ryan Phillips for fifth place in the 3A East this season. The leader is Lee's Gillian Garrison, with 66 goals.

The Warriors don't publish their goalkeeping and defensive stats, but the teams have similar records of goals against. The Lady Jackets have allowed 25 goals this season, and Hunt has allowed 27.