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Here comes White Oak again for Lady Demons
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Here comes White Oak again for Lady Demons

When Fike High defeated Jacksonville White Oak 4-1 in its second match of the season way back on March 1, it was a big win for the Lady Demons, who had never beaten the Lady Vikings in head coach Toni Varacchi’s 19 seasons at Fike.

The number of losses wasn’t as significant as when they happened.

“Pretty much everyone was a season-ending loss, regardless of how many times we played them,” said Varacchi.

Now, that March victory seems as far off as all those losses to White Oak as the Lady Demons and Lady Vikings get set for battle again Friday night at Fike — this time in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.

Varacchi, for one, isn’t putting much stock in that March outcome, even though her Lady Demons (18-2-1), the top seed from the Big East Conference, are the No. 2 seed in the East region and White Oak (12-6-1) is No. 18.

“I think it’s hard to learn from anybody what you see back in March,” she said. “What you’re going to see in May are two completely different teams.

“We know they have key players, set up differently, moving people around in different positions just as anybody playing high school soccer is doing now.”

White Oak, which has won six NCHSAA 3-A championships beginning in 2003 and most recently 2012, might not have the same firepower as in those seasons, but Varacchi knows not to underestimate the Lady Vikings of head coach Buddy Carroll, who has presided over five of those titles.

White Oak finished third in the rugged Coastal Conference behind co-champions Swansboro and Jacksonville, ranked Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, in the N.C. Coaches Association 3-A poll.

Senior Della Futral, the younger sister of Barton College standout midfielder Emily Futral, leads the Lady Vikings with 19 goals, even though she’s their best defender, earning the Jacksonville Daily News Defender of the Year each of the past two seasons.

“When she plays in the back, they obviously don’t give up as many goals — or score as many,” Varacchi said.

White Oak’s other top scorers are Ericca Lenhardt (9 goals, 3 assists) and Rachel Krueger (6 goals, 7 assists). Senior goalkeeper MaryKate Helms will continue her soccer career at the U.S. Naval Academy next year.

Fike, however, counters with perhaps its best team since 2006 when state single-season scoring leader Sarah Winslow and the Lady Demons were eliminated at White Oak in their only loss of the season. Several players from that Fike team went on to play collegiately but this year’s Lady Demons edition also has a few slated to play at the next level.

Senior E.J. Proctor, who has signed with Duke University as a walk-on goalkeeper, has returned to the net after playing in the field all season following off-season elbow surgery. Proctor made her debut at keeper in Fike’s 10-1 defeat of Richlands in Wednesday’s playoff opener.

“Obviously, she’s a good goalkeeper but we’ve done well with her in the field,” said Varacchi.

Freshman Alexus Caster was in goal until an injury ended her season and sophomore Rebekah Langley moved back from defender and did a solid job.

Varacchi issued credit to the back line — seniors Baker Bedgood and Regan Collins along with junior Joelle Brown and sophomores Langley and Hailee Cockrell, who moved back when Langley was in goal — for Fike’s stellar defensive showing, giving up an average of 0.76 goals and producing 12 shutouts.

“You’ve got to give credit to the defensive four who has been there in front of whoever is in goal,” she said. “We’ve done well not giving other teams many opportunities.”

Fike’s only losses are to Big East co-champion Hunt (4-2) and 4-A D.H. Conley (3-0), which is 17-1. The Lady Demons tied Wilmington Hoggard, ranked seventh in the 4-A poll, 1-1 in the season opener.

Junior midfielder Mary Love Taylor, who has verbally committed to Duke, has been an anchor in the midfield while sophomores Landyn McDevitt and Elery Williams, junior Katie Stokely and senior Lindsey Rhyne have provided the offensive punch.

“If we leave it all on the field, that’s all I can ask for,” Varacchi said. “We are better than anticipated at the beginning of the season and it’s just a matter of putting it all together.

Varacchi said that finally having beaten White Oak puts her a little more at ease going into Friday’s game, but insisted “that’s not our focal point.”

The playoff road is long and a second-round loss is the same as one in the third, fourth or fifth round. And White Oak isn’t the only potential danger from Onslow County.

“You’ve got to get through Jacksonville, whether it’s Jacksonville or White Oak or, now, Swansboro,” Varacchi said. | 265-7808
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