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Dogs' Day: North girls win first state soccer title

Photo by Christine Troyke

Photo by Christine Troyke

SUWANEE -- A third-minute goal from Danielle Au didn't take away all the drama. North Gwinnett doesn't like it that easy.

The third-ranked Bulldogs had to endure a near two-hour rain delay at halftime, uncertain if lightning storms would ease up and allow the Class AAAAA final to finish Saturday night. The weather eventually cooperated for an 11 p.m. restart and third-ranked North finished off its first girls soccer state championship with a 3-0 over No. 4 Northview.

The margin of victory meant there was no tense finish as North was accustomed to -- its four previous state playoff wins were all by a single goal and two were decided by penalty kicks -- but nobody was complaining after the Bulldogs handled a good Northview team for the second time this season.

"It was still pretty tense, a 1-0 lead at halftime and a two-hour rain delay," said North girls coach Mark Karen, who also led the Bulldogs to a girls cross country state title last fall. "You just don't know what's going to happen. But the second goal was huge because they were down our throats. They let down a little after that, but give them credit, they kept playing hard. The last goal was nice insurance. We just came back from a two-goal deficit (in the semifinals) with not much time left, so two goals to me was still not enough."

Au, the team's only senior, was the catalyst offensively again. She scored North's first goal, assisted the second and then finished up with a 71st minute goal for the final margin.

"It was the first time we've won state in soccer and we've only won four state championships in our school's history before this, so it feels awesome," Au said. "We definitely came out here to win a state championship."

As ominous lightning flashed in the distance, much like it did for the entire first half, Au got the Bulldogs off to an ideal start. Jessica Eberhardt's long clearance found its way to North's top offensive threat, who was behind the Northview defense.

Au took it into the box where she slipped a shot past Hannah Riddle and sent a large home crowd into a frenzy.

North (19-3) controlled play for the entire first half, holding a 4-0 edge in shots on goal and a 3-0 advantage in corner kicks. Au had three of the shots on goal, including a 33rd-minute strike that was just punched over on an acrobatic save by Riddle and another in the 37th minute where she was free for a close shot but a charging Riddle deflected it wide.

Less than three minutes into the second half, Au's nice play made it 2-0. Northview had charged forward for a good early chance, but the Bulldogs came right back as Au made a perfect cross that Lauren Harriman headed in for the goal.

"It hit the back of my head," Harriman said. "I didn't even know it went in. I spun my head and I didn't see it."

A more comfortable lead came in the 71st minute when freshman Taylor Burns made a great pass into space to Au, who converted a sliding shot past keeper Taylor Erickson.

North had some other good chances against a stingy Northview (15-3) defense that had allowed just 12 goals all season entering the finals. Four of those were to North in a 4-1 loss that gave the Bulldogs the Region 7-AAAAA title.

North's back four was even stronger than the Titans in the championship game. Mackenzie Loula, Eberhardt, Abigail Groth and Kristin Tamburo kept the Titans to just one shot on goal against goalkeeper Lauren Duncan. Abbi Edwards, Maggie Grayson, Harriman and Sarah Murphy also supported well defensively, while setting up Au and Burns in the attack.

The Bulldogs finished with a 9-1 edge in shots on goal, finishing off an improbable run with a team laden with youth.

"This has been my favorite season of my 13-year coaching career," Karen said. "The girls made me so proud."