As of now, 2012 is the best year in the history of Tarboro’s girls soccer program.
The Vikings have returned everyone from the team that finished second in the Eastern Plains Conference last season, and find themselves as something they’ve never been: The team to beat.
“I really think we’re the favorites,” Tarboro coach Leshaun Jenkins said. “Last year was a great year for us, but we’re hoping for another record year.”
Shayla Thorne, Julie Hayes and Chandler Harris – each an All-Region selection in 2012 – return to a team that made the playoffs last season. Thorne and Harris combined for 45 goals last season, while Harris is the best defender in the Twin Counties.
Jenkins said Wilson Beddingfield, the 2012 EPC champion, will be the Vikings’ biggest in-conference challenge.
But with the opportunity to move Harris or Thorne to midfield, or to go to five defenders, or to play with three forwards, the Vikings are loaded with options.
“We’re going to be real offense heavy, very fast, a lot of counterattacking, but we have a lot of flexibility in what we can do,” Jenkins said. “We’re playing a basic 4-4-2 now, but I can do any number of things, and they can do almost anything.”
Like last year, when Rocky Mount High, Wilson Fike and Wilson Hunt jostled for Big East supremacy, most around the Big East expect the same three schools to be fighting for the conference’s top spot again.
“It’s really going to be a three-team race for the No. 1 seed,” Rocky Mount coach Drew Nick said. “It’s going to come down to whoever is playing the best at the right time. There isn’t much of a gap between us.”
Nick’s Gryphons won the regular season title last season but fell to Fike in the conference tournament. This year, the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds won’t have the same opportunity: The NCHSAA shortened the spring schedule, so there won’t be a Big East Tournament this season.
The Gryphons return seniors Kasey Cooke and Telegram 2012 All-Area Player of the Year Sydney Browder, who combined for 72 goals and 72 assists between them last season.
Gone is graduated center back Caroline Bell, and added to Rocky Mount’s squad are 12 freshmen.
“We’re still working out what type of team we’re going to be, what formation we’re going to play and even who will be on the field,” Nick said. “Some (freshmen) are further along than others, but we have a lot of strong players, and things change over the course of the year.”
And while the race at the top figures to be tight, the race for the fourth and final Big East playoffs spot might be just as contested.
Southern Nash lost its entire back line from last season and its top substitute; Northern Nash has only 13 girls on the roster, forcing many Knights to play a full 80 minutes every game.
The Ladybirds have won their first three games with a defensive 5-4-1 formation, and coach John Matthews said his team has shown promise thus far.
“They’re improving more and more as they see the field,” Matthews said. “But when you get to conference (games), it’s always tough. We have three really tough teams in our conference, Northern (Nash) is always well coached and (Nash) Central has players.
“The top three and the bottom three will all be in battles.”
The NCISSA’s Eastern Plains Independent Conferences figures, as usual, to be ruled by Cary Christian, which has advanced to the state’s Final Four in six consecutive years.
The Knights went 14-2-1 last year, but did not play in the state championship for the first time since 2006.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.
SATURDAY: Boys’ Golf
TODAY: Girls’ Soccer
WEDNESDAY: Track & Field
THURSDAY: Boys’ Tennis