Woods Charter shakes off rust, stifles Cornerstone attack in win

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/10/21

CHAPEL HILL — For student-athletes, returning from spring break isn’t always easy.

Players transitioning from relaxing on the beach one week to competing in a high-intensity game the …

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Woods Charter shakes off rust, stifles Cornerstone attack in win

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CHAPEL HILL — For student-athletes, returning from spring break isn’t always easy.

Players transitioning from relaxing on the beach one week to competing in a high-intensity game the next can be cause for plenty of post-vacation rust.

But the Wolves’ women’s soccer team handled it well.

Woods Charter overcame its early-game struggles to defeat the Cornerstone Charter Academy Cardinals, 4-1, on Wednesday and further solidify their second-place spot in the Central Tar Heel 1A conference (4-1), just behind the undefeated Raleigh Charter Phoenix (3-0).

Early on, the Wolves struggled to move the ball effectively for most of the first half, putting passes in the wrong spots and presenting little threat offensively.

While they were able to get shots off on occasion, the ones they put near the goal either lacked power or any real direction, allowing Cornerstone to rack up several early saves.

“It is hard to be away at the beach or wherever you’ve been and then come back and play a conference-level game,” said Graeme Stewart, the Wolves’ head coach. “You can’t let that be an excuse. You have to fix it. And you have to have the mental discipline to know and play to your potential and get past it.”

Woods Charter freshman forward Leyla Noronha opened up the scoring in the game’s first couple of minutes, giving her team a 1-0 lead they’d carry into the second half.

After halftime, the Wolves looked like a much different, more put-together team.

While their defense remained superb, as it was all game, allowing just five shots on the night, their offense picked up the pace in the latter half thanks to a couple of central players.

Noronha, despite her youth, is the key to Woods Charter’s offensive flow.

As the Wolves’ leader in goals scored with eight in five games, not only does her footwork and speed make her hard to defend, she tends to put a major emphasis on getting others the ball, using the attention she garners from defenders to her team’s advantage.

“At such a young age, she has the I.Q. and she has the experience already,” Stewart said. “She’s learning to play with kids that are three years older than her, but yes, she knows where to be, she knows what to do with it when she gets it and she’s got good technical ability and speed. She’s dynamite already. And she’s only going to get better.”

Midway through the second half, the game stagnant at 1-0, Noronha took the ball away near midfield, attracting two Cardinals to flock towards her as she dribbled the ball from left to right, methodically moving down the pitch. Meanwhile, senior midfielder Anna Mitchell slipped behind the defenders, allowing Noronha to fit the ball in between them with a perfectly timed pass as Mitchell went 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper and slotted it to the right side of the net for the Wolves’ second goal.

“I just anticipated that pass and I was there and it’s just something we’ve practiced a lot in practice, the patterns,” Mitchell said. “She’s a freshman, I’m a senior, so … we’ve just been learning in these first couple of games. It’s still midseason, so we’re just feeling each other out, but we have a really good connection. We kind of know where each other is going to be and it’s just one of those instinctive things that you can’t teach.”

About 10 minutes later, in the 68th minute, that connection was ignited again — though unintentionally — as a shot by Noronha ricocheted off of the right post, landing right in front of Mitchell, who rocketed it into the net for her second goal of the night, giving the Wolves a 3-0 lead as the game began to get away from Cornerstone.

“Coach always tells us to follow our shot,” Mitchell said, “the keepers could hit it out, so you just want to be there in case you get a second chance shot.”

From that point forward, the Wolves were in cruise control, their defense continuing to stifle the Cardinals’ attack as players like sophomore midfielder Megan Nowak, senior defender Saman Young and sophomore defender Flora Ulrich locked down the back end and refused to let Cornerstone get comfortable in their game.

Sophomore midfielder Chloe Richard tacked on an insurance goal in the 72nd minute, but just as the Wolves were about to get their second clean sheet of the season, Cornerstone freshman Kathryn Angrave — the only Cardinal to score a goal this season — connected on a 40-yard bomb in the final minute, just before time expired.

“I think we really controlled and dominated the game,” Stewart said. “That long shot at the end, it’s just one of those things … OK, she finished it well from 40 yards, that normally doesn’t happen. I think our defense was solid.”

The Wolves earned the 4-1 victory with an improved showing in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to fully satisfy Stewart, who mentioned that his team didn’t play to their full potential Wednesday night thanks to their slow start.

He continues to push the Wolves to communicate and move the ball more efficiently if they want to compete with the teams at the top of their conference, namely Raleigh Charter, who they lost to in a 4-0 shutout on March 24 just before the break.

However, when your team’s 4-1 to start the season — and is coming off of a three-goal win in their first game back from spring break — there’s a lot to be excited about.

“Obviously, I’m really pleased,” Stewart said. “There’s no easy games in our conference. You’ve got to earn the right in every single game … so I’m really pleased with where we are, but we’re still on that trajectory where we can get better and that’s what we’re going to work hard toward.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.


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