Isabel Pearce professes to be a shrinking violet. But she was in full bloom Wednesday, exhibiting characteristic flashes of speed and booming blasts into the net to smash both the girls state season and career scoring titles.
Pearce fired in six goals in Woods Charter School’s 8-0 whitewash of East Wake Academy in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A state playoffs. The No. 10 seed Wolves will play at home at 7 p.m. Saturday against No. 12 seed Spring Creek in the Eastern Region semifinals.
Pearce now sits atop the scoring heap with 223 career goals and 77 single season goals. She eclipsed the previous records of Carolyn Lindsay of South View (217) set in 2003, and Sarah Winslow of Fike (76) set in 2006.
“Obviously I scored a bunch of goals, and broke a few records, so I’m pretty content with that. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Pearce said.
“Today I was thinking about breaking the career goal, but I ended up breaking the other one, and I really wasn’t going for that … so it was a win-win today,” she said. “It’s pretty insane.”
She said it hasn’t sunk in yet that her name will be the one future players see atop the scoring charts while dreaming of breaking her records.
“Having a title like this is kind of overwhelming for me because I don’t really like being noticed, and I don’t like the attention,” Pearce said. In fact, she was relieved the record chase is over.
“It was a distraction. If I didn’t think of doing something like that I think I might have played better, but either way I think this helped me grow as a player,” she said. She struggled during recent practices under the weight of expectations.
“Today I had to go through a mental process where I said that, ‘I can do this. I can do it today. I can do it any day I want. I just have to believe in myself,’” Pearce said.
Woods Charter coach Graeme Stewart certainly believes in his UNC-Greensboro bound star.
“She just has such an insatiable appetite to maximize her ability, and when she goes to UNC-G it’s going to be no different. I don’t think they know what they’ve got yet, but they will,” Stewart said.
Having a player with bountiful innate talent and master skills honed from hours of extra practice, club ball and working out with the boys team has generated challenges. Stewart said his players had to learn how to play with her dominating ability.
“The analogy I use with people is if you’ve got the sharpest spear in the box you might as well use the point and not swing the butt around,” Stewart said. “So we’ve got to maximize her potential, but we’ve also got a plan because we know two and three people are going to mark her every time. So it’s not all about Isabel.” He has relied on outside speed to feed the ball inside to her.
East Wake Academy coach Michael Sloop said he’s been trying to figure out how to play against Pearce for four years.
“She’s an offensive threat. She’s got one thing on her mind all the time on the field and that’s to score goals,” Sloop said. “When you face somebody like that it’s tough to defend because she’s by far the fastest player on the field.”
Sloop said he was proud of his team finishing fourth two years in a row in what he believes is the best 1A conference in the state.
The Eagles went undefeated in nonconference play with only two seniors among his 21 players. Their 14 wins was the most for either a boys or girls soccer team at East Wake Academy. They were the first team at the school to win a first round state playoff game last year, and this year made school history by making it to the third round.
Pearce broke the career goals record with a header just a few minutes into the game. But she did it in unusual fashion after taking a pass from center defender Erin Nowak.
“I was running into defenders, and I lobbed it over the keeper and it hit the center bar,” she said. The ball dropped straight down and took a big bounce.
“I almost overran it, so I lurched back to get my head on it. So it was an assist and a goal scored by me,” Pearce said with a chuckle.
She threaded between two defenders to kick into the right side of the net for her second score. She pounded another ball into the upper left net from 15 yards out. Then she ripped one into the back right of the net after a long, failed penalty kick by Justina Stewart.
Defender Tyler Deegan scored on a short kick to open the second half.
Pearce tied the season goal record after taking a pass at midfield and dribbling fiercely to the net, booting a low line drive to the right side. Then she broke the record after popping out of a pile, isolating goalie Emily Albertson, and lacing a one-on-one kick into the far left corner that Albertson could only watch sail past her.
Julianna Puccio finished the scoring for the Wolves with a late kick.