Chapel Hill eyes state title sendoff for beloved girls' soccer coach
Games are games when you’ve been monitoring them as long as Chapel Hill girls’ soccer coach Ron Benson.
He’s been part of the Tigers soccer program for at least three decades. He’s seen it all.
His assistant coaches have been trying to get him to understand that Chapel Hill’s games this season are particularly special, since he’s retiring and Saturday will be his last game..
But Benson is Benson, and games still are just games — both during the regular season and all playoffs long.
And then came Tuesday, when Chapel Hill traveled to Wilson and beat Fike 2-0 to earn both the 3-A Eastern regional title and a shot at a state championship Saturday at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field (2:05 p.m., Time Warner Cable 323).
OK, Saturday’s game won’t just be any old game, Benson said.
“That one’s got a little special on it, whether I was retiring or not,” Benson said.
Chapel Hill, which has never played for a girls’ state soccer title, will be up against the Weddington Warriors, out of Matthews.
The Chapel Hill boys’ soccer team won state titles in 1972, 1974 and 1983. The last time the school had a representative in a state soccer final was 2009, when Waxhaw Marvin Ridge beat the Chapel Hill boys 2-1 in sudden-death overtime at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
After girls’ soccer in North Carolina went to three classifications (4-A, 3-A, 1-A/2-A) in 1998, East Chapel Hill won 3-A titles in 1998, 2000 and 2004.
Mark Kadlecik coached that 2004 team and said his squads over the years battled Benson’s.
Benson, 73, has a laid-back approach to coaching, but it works and he obviously gets results, Kadlecik said.
“The kids really buy in to what he does,” Kadlecik said.
Kadlecik, who also coached soccer at Carrboro, these days is a professional soccer referee and recently helped officiate the NCAA men’s soccer Final Four.
This season’s Chapel Hill team (22-1) is a very good one that will have to figure out the Western ways of Weddington (20-2-1), Kadlecik said.
Weddington, like most teams toward the other side of the state, plays a style of soccer that moves from the defenders directly to the forwards, Kadlecik said.
“Chapel Hill plays a very possession-oriented, attacking style,” Kadlecik said.
The Tigers like to keep the ball on the ground, looking to swing it wide and make the defense work, hopefully either exposing or creating gaps to the goal, Kadlecik said.
Kadlecik compared Chapel Hill senior Alex Kimball to a basketball point guard who knows how to exploit those openings.
“She can find those gaps,” Kadlecik said.
Kimball leads Chapel Hill with 23 goals and 17 assists. Her goal late in the second half against Fike was the game’s first score and gave the Tigers momentum.
Weddington’s Maggie Wadsworth scored two goals during the Warriors’ 4-1 regional win over Waxhaw’s Cuthbertson on Wednesday night. She’s scored at least 30 goals this season.
Benson said Weddington has been playing at a high level and on paper is a tougher match-up than Cuthbertson would have been.
Kimball, who will suit up for the storied North Carolina soccer program after graduating from Chapel Hill, made it sound like the Tigers’ minds are made up that there is only one right way to send Benson into retirement — with a state title.
NOTES —Chapel Hill has been traveling through much of the playoffs because it lost a coin flip to co-Big Eight 3-A Conference champion Cardinal Gibbons — last year’s state 3-A champs — for the league’s No. 1 seed and the No. 1 overall seed in the 32-team East region. Chapel Hill dropped to the No. 9 overall seed because the eight Eastern league champions are seeded ahead of any conference runners-up. Chapel Hill hosted its first two playoff games, but has had to beat the No. 1 (Gibbons), No. 5 (Swansboro) and No. 2 (Fike) seeds on the road in its last three playoff games.
Gibbons and Chapel Hill each finished the Big Eight season with 13-1 conference records which included a split of 1-0 games between them, each team winning at home before Chapel Hill won the playoff rubber match 2-1 in Raleigh.