“We’ve built the foundation and achieved one of our main goals already,” he said following that 2-1 overtime win over East Carteret. “Now, it’s about maintaining that success and accomplishing new goals.”
Three years later, the Spartans are known as a soccer power. They extended that win streak to 34, before losing to Bishop McGuinness in the fourth round of the playoffs in 2015. Then they won the 1A state championship again a year ago, defeating Franklin Academy 5-1 in a match of top seeds. In non-conference play, they even knocked off 4A power Hough 2-1.
Now, the Spartans are led by a group of six seniors who were freshmen filling key roles on that first state title team.
“They’ve been in big games for three years, been on the biggest stage and performed,” said Solomonson. “It really has been special just to watch them progress as players.”
No longer the underclassmen who are free to simply play, the seniors now are looked to for leadership as well. It’s part of the deal.
“Now they’re sitting in that spot,” said Solomonson. “They’re in that role. It’s one they’re starting to embrace. They’re all competitors, and they’ve already done so much, but it’s about what you leave behind, and making the people around you better.”
One indicator of the class of 2017’s impact comes from the duo of forward Lissi Gordon and midfielder Eliza Robinson. Gordon scored CSD’s first goal in the 2014 state final off an assist from Robinson. Robinson then buried one of four penalty kicks as CSD sealed the win in overtime. Now, Gordon enters Wednesday’s game against Bessemer City two goals from tying Julia Grainda’s program record of 74 goals. She had 21 as a freshman and junior and 27 as a sophomore. Robinson is already CSD’s assist leader with 50. She also has 57 goals.
Four of the seniors have signed to play at the next level, including Gordon (Liberty), Robinson (Middlebury), Grace Kwiatkowski (UNC Asheville) and Cassidy Wheaton (Anderson).
“Freshman year, all had a desire to play at the next level,” said Solomonson. “We were talking about it back then.”
Gordon is an aggressive player, always looking to make things happen offensively. Robinson plays in the center spot and directs traffic, often with a creative flare. Wheaton and Kwiatkowski play alongside one another at center back.
“They’ve been the core of our defense,” said Solomonson of Wheaton and Kwiatkowski. “They both manage difficult situations when we’re under attack.”
A cross country runner in the fall, Hunter Cashion plays outside midfielder, and Solomonson said she is one of the best crossers of the ball around. She just committed to Greensboro College.
Rebecca Fesperman plays right fullback and uses her speed to shut down the opposition’s attacks. The six seniors have a tight bond.
“I think what makes it so special is we’re a family,” said Kwiatkowski. “We look forward to spring.”
The seniors have help, too. Junior Emily Koch returns at forward, where she was one of five CSD players with double-digit goals last year. Junior Kendall Miller scored on a header in the state final last year, and sophomore keeper Tori Hancock returns after earning the starting spot a year ago.
The Spartans have also gotten a boost from newcomers Darby Bevis and Kaitlyn Russell.
CSD, 57-1-2 the previous three years, is 4-1-1 entering Wednesday’s game, and the Spartans will take on two teams from the eastern part of the state at an east-west challenge this weekend at Catawba College in Salisbury. They’ll play Woods Charter on Friday, then Franklin Academy in a state final rematch Saturday.
As for the big picture, the Spartans once again have lofty goals that culminate in Raleigh. With all they’ve done, that should come as no surprise.
“That definitely is our goal, but we’re trying to take it match by match,” said Robinson. “As a senior, I really want it.”