It wasn’t the storybook ending to a girls soccer coaching tenure that Ian Leith hoped for, but he got the effort he wanted and will take it.
Jason Dragoon didn’t see the effort and passion he’s used to seeing out of his East Lincoln squad, but he’ll sure take the win.
The Mustangs held off the Wolves 1-0 Wednesday in the regular-season finale for both squads. The match also marked the last for Leith as the program head for the girls, although he said he will continue coaching the boys program next fall.
“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t beat, what I consider the strongest team in our conference, on senior night. But it’s a good way to end the season,” Leith said.
East Lincoln, which finished the regular season tied for first in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference with Newton-Conover, scored in the first three minutes of the second half and held on to force a one-match playoff with the Red Devils on Friday for the league’s top playoff seed.
East Lincoln (18-5-1, 13-1-0) and Newton-Conover (15-3-0, 13-1-0) will meet at 7 p.m. at Bunker Hill.
But there was something missing with the Mustangs on Wednesday, and, according to Dragoon, his team didn’t look like one chasing a No. 1 playoff berth.
“For some reason we looked like we weren’t ready to play today,” Dragoon said. “We have to make a choice: Do we want to beat Newton-Conover Friday and make a run in the state playoffs? Or do we want to just go through the motions?
“We’re much better than what we showed, and I need them to play up to their potential. Maybe this was a game we needed to show them we’re not invincible.”
Although East Lincoln, which played without its top goal scorer in Tatum Auvil due to an ankle injury, outshot the Wolves 6-1 in the first half –– “We had a problem scoring from 5 feet away,” Dragoon said –– it had nothing to show for it in a scoreless 40 minutes.
Lincolnton (5-13-1, 3-10-1) came out in the second half more aggressive than the first, but the Wolves couldn’t get any of their shots to get past keeper Mollie Dallin.
Lexi Smith found herself open in the penalty box on Audrey Cardwell’s header up ahead, and netted the shot with 37 minutes to play for the 1-0 lead.
Lincolnton outshot the Mustangs 5-3 in the second half, and Leith was happy with his team’s effort despite its shortcomings.
“It just kind of feels good to see them grow like that,” he said.
The match was the last as the head coach of the varsity girls program after six seasons for Leith, who is also the head coach of the boys program and assists head coach Jimmy Carr with the varsity girls basketball team.
Leith, an East Lincoln graduate who played for Dragoon on the county’s first scholastic soccer program, said a full school year’s worth of coaching was taking away time with his family.
Leith was honored at halftime, along with his seniors for senior night, and Dragoon was a guest speaker during the ceremony.
Leith helped build Lincolnton’s soccer program to where it is today, and was instrumental in helping get the field improvements necessary to be competitive, Dragoon said.
“He’s done so much for the Lincolnton High School soccer program. He’s put in the countless hours and sweat and hard work to have the program where it is today,” Dragoon said.
Leith will return to the sidelines when the boys soccer season kicks off in August, and said his replacement has yet to be named.
The Wolves didn’t knock off the Mustangs on Wednesday, but they played hard, and, in his final match, that’s all Leith could ask for.
“I really have enjoyed being a part of the program and building the program,” Leith said.
“It was a good way to go out.”