PEMBROKE — Before the season started, Purnell Swett girls soccer coach Alaric Strickland had his team make a list of goals for what it wanted to accomplish this season.
Monday marked the final check on the three-part list as the Lady Rams were placed in the field for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s girls soccer state championship, the only team in Robeson County to do so.
“They were very excited to accomplish one of the goals we set out for the season,” Strickland said. “We wanted to achieve 12 wins for the season, and we did that. And we wanted to, of course, beat Lumberton. (Making the playoffs) was one of the three goals we set out for this season.
“This was the goals they set for themselves. That’s what’s so great because they set out for it and accomplished it.”
No. 24 Purnell Swett (12-8) travels to No. 9 Page (11-4-1) on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. start time in the third overall playoff appearance for the program in four years.
Purnell Swett lost 6-1 at J.H. Rose last year in the first round of the state playoffs, and lost 9-0 to Panther Creek in 2015.
With a nucleus of young talent making up the roster, the Rams have experience despite having two seniors on roster. The main pieces from last year’s team were freshmen and sophomores then, and now are a year older and a year wiser.
“The girls know this is a one-and-done deal and if you are not up to your game, your season is over with,” Strickland said. “That experience last year going to J.H. Rose was a great benefit for the nucleus of the team.”
Leading the group of 10th and 11th graders is sophomore Abi Lowry, who finished with a team-high 28 goals and added five assists. This coming off a freshman season when Lowry turned heads as a first-year player with 24 goals and 16 assists. Aiding Lowry are juniors Maddison Oxendine and Khaile Jones and sophomore Layla Locklear. Oxendine has scored 14 goals this season, while Locklear has contributed seven goals and a team-best 13 assists.
Of the 63 goals scored by Purnell Swett this season, 62 have came off the foot of an underclassman who will return next year.
Monica Lowry has been a strong point in goal for the Lady Rams this season with 81 saves and has allowed 31 goals in 20 matches this season.
The Lady Rams take on a Page team that Strickland said are a lot tougher than its record indicates. The Lady Pirates finished second in the Metro Conference and are a senior-laden team.
“They’re a very strong team that is ranked very high even though their record might not show it,” he said. “They have a good, strong team with a few good, strong players.”
Page has six seniors on roster that play in big spots on the field, but have relied on goal scoring to come from junior Tatum Neff and freshman Victoria Moser. Neff leads the Lady Pirates with 18 goals and Moser has assisted on 12 goals this season to lead the team in that category.
The defense from the Lady Pirates also has held opponents to 20 goals in 16 matches. For the Lady Rams, the first-round game is all about competing from start to finish.
“They have to play for 80 minutes, hard and strong,” Strickland said. “If we do have a setback, don’t let anything get to us to keep it from our goal of winning the game.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.