TRINITY — Last year, a high school sophomore girls soccer player named Ellie Garrison came out of seemingly nowhere to set a new NCHSAA record for goals scored in a season with 77.
Her final and record-breaking score came in the state 2-A championship game, the first goal that gave Wheatmore a lead it wouldn’t relinquish as it completed an undefeated 25-0 run to the state title.
So how to top that dream season?
Well, how about 78 goals? How about 84? Heck, how about leading not just the state but the nation in scoring?
That is where we stand at the moment.
This year, Garrison, now a target for every team she plays, broke her state mark before the playoffs even began.
Her fourth and last goal in Wednesday’s 9-2 win over Providence Grove, a header off a corner kick from Natalie Bowman, was Garrison’s 78th goal of the year, a nice present coming the day before her 17th birthday.
“I didn’t see it coming, but I wanted it,” she said afterwards. “I wanted it.”
Even more impressive, Garrison accomplished her latest record-breaking feat in just 18 games, having missed one game during Wheatmore’s 19-0 regular season.
She accomplished it with most of Wheatmore’s games over early because of a high school mercy rule.
She accomplished it with a teammate, Summer Bowman, having 51 goals herself after scoring three against Providence Grove. Every extra goal beyond that number moves Bowman, in her own right, further up the top 40 in state history for most goals in a season.
Yet, it’s for all of those reasons and more that Garrison stands where she does. And it’s always the first thing she acknowledges.
“I’ve had this great team behind me, great coaches, great parents, great family, everybody supporting me. I could never get to 78 goals without everybody else on the field,” she said after getting the record. “We have Summer getting the assist record for the school. It’s just a really great environment and my teammates always support me and push me to be better.”
Being in Coach Rick Maness’ hard-charging system is also a plus to getting Garrison where she is. It says something that in a 9-2 game, the talk afterwards was not only about Garrison’s scoring but how well Providence Grove goalkeeper Jenny Banuelos played. She was credited with 18 saves, including 12 in the first half when PG scored both of its goals and the game was close for most of the period.
At halftime, Maness moved Garrison from forward to a center midfielder and the game changed.
“For defenders, it’s easy to mark her when I know she’s here,” he explained. “But when I move her back here, they’re like, where’d she go? Now all of a sudden here she goes, blowing by you.
“I’m just trying to give her more space and now she’s a center. We’ve had to do that a few times this year.”
And in the second half, the faucets turned back on, not an unusual circumstance where the Warriors are concerned. Wheatmore set the state record for goals as a team last season with 195, 10 better than the previous high. This year, the Warriors are 16 away from besting that mark.
And having a running mate like senior teammate Summer Bowman is a huge advantage for Garrison as Bowman knows how to set Garrison up with back-breaking through passes through the back line and vice versa. Having a two-headed monster to defend makes it more difficult for a defense to surround one key player.
All of that goes into Garrison’s continued onslaught on the record books.
In Monday’s 9-0 shellacking of Shelby in the opening round of the 2-A state playoffs, Garrison scored six more goals to take her to 84. Those goals put to rest any whispered talk about if her 78 were actually the state record or not. Isabel Pearce of Woods Charter in Chatham County reportedly scored 80 goals in 2017 and 226 in her career, both of which would be state records except they are not listed with the NCHSAA.
But it’s a moot point at this juncture, as it will likely be eventually regarding the career mark, as Garrison already has 190 for her career, and she’s still got the rest of the playoffs and her senior season ahead of her.
Garrison’s output Monday also made her the national leader in goals scored this year. Remarkable.
Next year, Bowman is off to Appalachian State, where Garrison will follow a year later. But there are some player options to help fill the gap Bowman will leave behind, including her sister Natalie, a sophomore this year but a smooth up-and-comer with a talented skillset and deft touch of her own.
Next year is next year though, and this one is far from over.
“Some would say we aren’t as strong as last year, but we’re doing just as good,” Garrison said. “We brought in new players who are doing amazing, some starting, something you wouldn’t expect. I think we are proving to everybody that we can do this. We’re here for a reason.”
Wheatmore, despite being defending state champions and 20-0 this season, is the No. 2 seed in the West behind No. 1 Pine Lake Prep (17-1-2). The Warriors are home again on Thursday against No. 15 Forbush (11-8-1).