Roughton signs

Nash Central’s Mallory Roughton, left, and Southern Nash’s Melissa Hernandez battle for the ball during a 2018 game. Roughton on Friday signed a national letter of intent to play soccer for Lees-McRae next year.

Mallory Roughton found her next soccer home.

The Nash Central senior on Friday signed a national letter of intent to play soccer at Lees-McRae College next year, a Division II program in Banner Elk, about 80 miles northwest of Charlotte.

Roughton signed during a ceremony at the high school attended by coaches, friends and family.

“When I was in middle school I thought I wanted to play in college,” Roughton said. “And when I started to see people signing for different sports, I knew I wanted to play soccer whether it was Division I, II or III. Plus, I wasn’t looking for a really big school. I wanted a small, homey feel to my school.”

She found her fit, both at a soccer program that she liked and at a school size she is comfortable with. The Lees-McRae undergraduate size is close to 1,000 students.

As for soccer, the midfielder shined right away upon arriving on Nash Central’s campus. She has played on the Bulldogs’ varsity teams since her freshman season, and has finished in the top three in points in all three seasons. As a freshman, Roughton finished with eight goals and five assists on an up-and-coming Nash Central squad in 2017.

The Bulldogs broke through in 2018 — Roughton’s sophomore season — as they won the Eastern Plains Conference and finished with a 17-4 record. Roughton led the team in assists with 20, and finished second on the team with 78 points. Her efforts that year earned a spot on the Class 2-A All-State team.

As a junior last year, Roughton led a team that graduated a bunch of senior talent, and was the leader in collecting team highs in goals and assists.

At Lees-McRae, the coaching staff projects Roughton to play a more defensive position at defensive mid. Her ability to clog up opponents’ game plans was intriguing. And her proven ability to defend well, while also boosting her team’s scoring effort put her recruitment over the top.

The position change won’t be new to Roughton, who plays defensive mid on her travel team. At Nash Central, however, she has been playing at center midfield while directing the offense and distributing passes to the scoring threats at forward. In 2018, Roughton was the main source of Linzi Long’s team-high 36 goals en route to a 91-point season.

“In college they view me as a little more defensive,” Roughton said. “You won’t know until you get there, but that’s where they were looking at me to play. It’s a little different because it doesn’t give you as much freedom to move up, but it’s kind of nice at the same time because you can see the plays develop in front of you.”

Roughton will be one of five juniors to return as seniors this spring when the girls’ soccer season begins.