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Area girls soccer players help East to 3-2 win

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BROWNS SUMMIT — In soccer, the box score can only tell so much, especially about those tasked with keeping away goals rather than scoring them.

But among soccer talent headed for top programs after playing in the North Carolins Coaches Association East-West All-Star game, two Johnston County girls soccer players destined for smaller colleges made a difference in the East’s 3-2 win over the West on July 16.

Clayton goalie Kasey Wilkins and Corinth Holders defender Kaelin Sanderford will each be playing soccer next year in Raleigh, with Wilkins headed for William Peace University and Sanderford to Meredith College just four miles away. 

Sanderford was a late addition to the roster at the beginning of July, but had one final chance to be reunited with Corinth Holders head coach Alison Vetterl, who manned the sidelines for the East team. 

“It was an honor for my coach to coach me one last time,” Sanderford said after the game. “It was a pleasure.”

Both Sanderford and Wilkins got the start for the East team, with Wilkins putting on the gloves as the only goalie on the East roster, while Sanderford played defensive center midfielder, which was outside of her typical spot on the back line. 

After several players backed out in the weeks leading up to the game, Vetterl asked Sanderford to step into a position out of the ordinary, something she knew Sanderford could handle.

“I had her in some positions she’s not typically used to, so I think she adjusted well,” Vetterl said. “And that’s the thing with her, she will just adjust on the fly and just be like, ‘I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’ 

“That’s what’s real nice about her, she’s willing to do whatever is needed for the team.”

It didn’t take long until both saw action on the defensive side of the field. Just six and a half minutes into the contest, Wilkins saved the first shot of the game, one of four saves on the night. 

Through the first half, Wilkins saw two shots on goal. She said the hardest part of playing goalie in an all-star game is not letting the pressure get to her when high-level forwards are coming at her looking to score.

“Being the only goalkeeper on the roster, you can’t get hurt,” Wilkins said after the win. “There’s nobody to go in. We only had a couple practices, and I only knew a couple people when I came here, so I guess settling into the atmosphere was the hardest part.”

After the early threat, that pressure on the East defense was relieved when Chapel Hill High’s Alex Kerr, headed to Vanderbilt on scholarship, blasted a shot from 19 yards out that found the top left corner of the goal. Mikayla Brenman, also from Chapel Hill, assisted on the goal.

From then on, even when the West pushed to make a comeback, the East offense was just one step ahead, which Vetterl said turned out to be the difference.

“It helped a lot because they’ve got a lot of speed and a lot of girls that will take it to you,” Vetterl said. “We definitely had to make sure we were not trying to let them go to goal, and just keep them away.”

A minute before that initial East goal, Sanderford came out to rest. She came back in during the 19th minute and in the 20th minute Page High forward Tatum Neff received a through ball from Greensboro’s Grimsley High’s Laura Harris and put it in the left corner of the goal, with Wilkins diving the wrong way.

With just under two minutes until the break, Kerr broke through again, bending a ball from 20 yards out over the goalie Kylie Joyce’s hands and into the top corner of the goal.

Kerr and the East offense had been putting the pressure on Joyce since the West tied the score. After a shot on goal each from Raleigh Leesville Road forwards Malina Pardo and Mackenzie Gower, Kerr tried unsuccessfully to score with five minutes left until the last shot of the half ultimately gave the lead back to the East for good.

In the second half, Gracie Stolz from Cary Green Hope scored a goal to extend the East lead to 3-1 before a Jess LaFrancis pass to Northwest Guilford’s Logan Farrelly ended the scoring of the night. 

Giving up two goals on seven shots on goal, and receiving help on a team save that recovered after the ball hit the post, Wilkins thought she held up well, all things considering.

“I think I did all right considering some of these girls are going to really high level Division I schools and I’m just going to a Division III school,” Wilkins said. “I still feel like we were able to compete evenly. I thought the teams were pretty even, and I’m glad the East came out with the W.”

Vetterl, who has watched Wilkins improve since she was a freshman, said Wilkins was “incredible.”

“She’s gotten better and better,” Vetterl quipped. “I was very happy to have her on our side.”

Sanderford, on the other hand said it was an experience she won’t soon forget. 

“It was a very different, super intense atmosphere and we really felt like a family for the East,” Sanderford said. “I just really enjoyed it.”

Two in boys game

In the East-West All-Star boys soccer game played directly after the girls game, two Johnston County players participated. 

Cleveland forward Hunter Lee took one shot in the contest, while Clayton defender Dennis Andino started on the back line. 

After a scoreless contest, the game was decided in the final minute when West forward and former Watauga High standout Jair Alvarez connected on his only shot of the day. Alvarez, on an assist from Brandon Linares, followed up an initial shot that rebounded to him and redirected it home to beat the East team 1-0.