The East Wilkes Cardinals came into the 2019 soccer season with a singular goal.
“We are trying to win the 1A side of the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference. We have senior leaders and we have the ability to score in bunches,” commented East Wilkes Head Coach Rodney Wagoner. “We’re hoping these two strengths can carry us to a title.”
While the Cardinals fell short of the 1A conference title, the Cardinals were still able to achieve new milestones for the program in 2019.
East Wilkes had made it to the 1A playoffs every season dating back to 2013, and recorded the program’s first-ever playoff win in 2014 over Cherokee High School.
Under the leadership of Wagoner since 2016, the team has continued to excel in a much-improved MVAC and has remained a consistent playoff contender on the 1A side.
The Cardinals entered 2019 coming off a campaign where they finished 7-12 overall and 6-8 in conference for the second-straight year. The Cards graduated four seniors off last year’s squad, including goalkeeper Anna Parks and do-it-all field player Christa Burchette.
Stepping into the leadership roles this season were captains Sheila Aguilar and Ciara Pierce.
“Aguilar was called upon to score consistently this season. She plays forward and is a vocal leader on the team,” said Wagoner. “Pierce can play all over the field, as a sweeper, a central midfielder or a forward. We want her to have lots of touches and to score from those touches.”
Pierce and Aguilar combined to score 56 of the Cardinals’ 68 goals in 2019 — 36 and 20, respectively.
The senior duo finished the year in third (Pierce) and fifth (Aguilar) place in overall scoring, respectively, in the conference. Additionally, Pierce was the sixth leading point scorer (goals and assists combined) in Class 1A in 2019.
Leading the defense for the Cardinals in 2019 was the third senior team captain, Leah Nance.
Nance had the difficult role of being the leader on defense and playing the sweeper role on the backline. As the sweeper, Nance had the added role of integrating younger players into roles on the backline, namely sophomores Ali Kranz and Sarah Wooldredge. Other key contributors on the backline were seniors Caroline Huffman, Bailey Johnson, Brooklyn Mounce and Elizabeth Bahena.
The Cards utilized two keepers in 2019 as Brooke Ward and Kaylee Shelton both earned time as the backstop.
Shelton, a senior, served as the starter for most of the season and compiled a 10-9 record. Ward, a junior, saw minutes in 18 of the Cards 22 games and will be prepared to step into the starting role in 2020.
In the midfield, juniors Anna Wagoner and Gracie Martin worked the wings for the Cardinals. Senior Katie Stokes and junior Charity Speaks filled the defensive midfield roles, and in the central attacking midfield position, Jordan Schubart stepped up in a big way.
The sophomore was a ball winner in the midfield and had a sixth sense for delivering the ball to the potent offensive weapons, according to Rodney Wagoner.
While falling short of their stated goals, the Cardinals’ 2019 season was a success in many other ways.
East Wilkes finished fourth in the MVAC with an 8-6 mark and 10-10 overall record heading into the postseason. East Wilkes’s finish was good enough for the No. 15 seed in the West region of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A playoffs.
The Cardinals also received a home match against Queens Grant Charter School and defeated the Stallions 8-4 for the program’s second-ever playoff victory.
East Wilkes then traveled to Walnut Cove for a second round matchup against No. 3 South Stokes.
The Cardinals fell in their second-round matchup 9-0 to the Sauras, who advanced all the way to the regional semifinals. East Wilkes finished 2019 with an 11-11 record.