Speed, skill and style are all part of what makes soccer the beautiful game.
But being the most physical team on the pitch is usually what determines the match.
Monday night in Hays North Wilkes was the aggressor against the visiting Avery County Vikings and the end result was an important 2-1 nonconference win at Raner Wiles Stadium.
The win marked a stark turnaround from an Aug. 19 meeting in Newland between the two schools. There Avery came out of the gate strong and bested North 6-2.
“It was a difference in focus, overall,” said North Wilkes Head Coach James Cline of his team’s better play Monday. “Avery is one of the most physical teams we will play all season. They defend well and play team soccer. And on the way to their place, we were laughing and carrying on, and weren’t ready to meet the challenge when the match started.”
After the loss in Newland, Cline said the team “harped on playing more physically, and being ready for the opponent.”
Cline continued with a smile, “I’m an old football coach, so I told them we get out the pads and helmets if we needed to.”
But North Wilkes was prepared for the challenge Monday, controlling initial possession and getting chances early and often to score against the visitors. And in the eighth minute, two freshmen combined to put the Vikings on the board.
Samuel Panneton controlled the ball near the center stripe and raced past the Avery midfielders down the right side of the pitch. Panneton then expertly crossed the ball out of the corner to teammate Ivan Duran, who collected the pass while evading the charge of keeper Jackson Russ.
Duran got enough on the ball off the pass to boot it past Russ, and the Vikings were up 1-0.
That lead lasted through much of the first half. But in the 30th minute, Avery tied the contest up at 1-apiece.
That goal was the result of a span of new, constant pressure from the visitors. Finally, with players from both sides engaged in a mad scrum near the goal line, Finley Serafim was able to get just enough on the ball to scoot it past North goalie Brayden McGlamery.
McGlamery didn’t make it easy. He made one spectacular save prior to that goal, diving to punch the ball away from heading past the line, but North Wilkes couldn’t clear the ball before Serafim made them pay.
The tie lasted through the intermission. But as the second half progressed, Panneton and Alex Ruvalcaba were both able to make deep runs into Avery territory. Subsequent crosses near the pipes didn’t connect, however, until Ruvalcaba and Duran made it work in the 62nd.
Ruvalcaba took possession near midfield and raced down the right hash, with Duran taking off down the sideline. Ruvalcaba was able to chip the ball over the top of an Avery defender as Duran made a run at the goal and Duran took the ball into the box.
The shifty freshman then dribbled past two defenders before Russ came out and tried to make a play, tripping Duran in the box.
The ensuing foul set up a North Wilkes penalty kick and Ruvalcaba, the senior, took it for Cline. His shot was true, zipping low and to Russ’s left and into the net.
Avery County had several chances down the stretch to tie the match back up, including in the 71st, when only the heady play of the North back line kept the ball out of the net. Once that opportunity was snuffed out and the ball cleared, North Wilkes was able to hold off their desperate opponent and claim the victory.
North Wilkes improved to 2-1 prior to Thursday’s match in Hays with North Carolina High School Athletic Association newcomver Millennium Charter Academy. Next up is a home match on Sept. 6 against North Hills Christian.
“Tonight was big win for us,” said Cline. “Avery matches up well with teams in our conference. They played Ashe County to a 0-0 tie at halftime the other night. So it’s very good for the program to get this victory.”
Avery, who beat McDowell Wednesday night, now stands at 2-2. West Wilkes will visit Newland Tuesday in Avery’s next contest.