by Aaron Garcia
Some coaches hide from the spotlight and possible distractions that accompany lofty rankings and expectations as if they have a sun allergy, fearing it will cause their teams to lose focus on the things that are truly important, such as winning games.
Charlotte Latin girls soccer coach Lee Horton is not among them.
Currently, the Hawks are the top-ranked team among 3A private schools in the state (according to eurosportscoreboard.com) with a 13-1 record. They also hold the No. 10 spot in the National Soccer Coaches Athletic Association Region II poll after being ranked in the national poll earlier this season, only to fall from the rankings after suffering their only loss of the season, a 1-0 decision to Deleware’s Padua Academy.
For Horton, accolades such as national and regional rankings are simply the by-product of success.
“I love it for the girls because I feel they deserve it in the way they show up to train every day and the way they consistently show up to play,” Horton said. “If they weren’t as passionate about it and if they didn’t have just the incredible attitudes they do, then I probably wouldn’t be as driven to work toward that stuff or push them for it as much as I do.”
On Friday, May 11, the Hawks will begin the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs with the goal of winning their fifth consecutive state title, which means the majority of the Hawks’ roster has won a state title. But for that to happen, said Horton, the Hawks will have to rely on a pair of newcomers devoid of postseason experience.
Forward Lily Kelly, a freshman, has been one of the Hawks’ biggest surprises this season. She leads the team in goals (13) and points (31) while contributing five assists. Perry Zollicoffer, another freshman, has been a starter at defense all season. The duo’s emergence has helped the Hawks keep up their torrid pace despite injuries to Cannon Clough (concussion) and Mary Lewis (knee injury) while supplementing an already-potent lineup consisting of players such as Amma Okwara (12 goals, three assists), Ashley Finke (seven, seven) and Mia Kane (six, eight).
Before the playoffs begin, the Hawks were slated to finish their regular season against No. 2-ranked Concord Cannon on May 2 before visiting archrival Charlotte Country Day on Tuesday, May 8. Though the potential for a stumble is there, especially against a 4-8-1 Country Day team, Horton said the Hawks have proven they’re up to the challenge.
“The thing that amazes me about our girls, the thing that I’m so proud of all the time is they show up to play every game,” said Horton. “The passion they play with is one of those things that (has made our team successful).”
And though they’ve fallen out of the national rankings, their presence in the regional poll gives the Hawks yet another goal for which to shoot.
“That gives us a chance to move back (into the national poll) if we can win states again,” said Horton.