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Wheatmore's Ellie Garrison (5) eyes the ball in a match against Randleman.    Eric Abernathy/Randolph Hub

Wheatmore rides stout defense into Western finals

TRINITY — In the last two seasons, seasons in which the Wheatmore varsity soccer team advanced to the state championship, a highly-potent offense was combined with an incredibly stingy defense to lead the way.


In those two years, the Warriors allowed a total of 33 goals, 16 in 2022 and 17 in 2023. Hard to fathom, allowing just 33 goals in two full seasons. 


This year, those defensive numbers were certainly different as an 8-1 loss to Northern Guilford, a 5-3 loss to North Davidson, a 5-4 win over Uwharrie Charter and a 5-3 loss to Providence Grove meant the Warriors had surrendered 22 goals in just those four games.


The games against UCA and PG came in the final week of the Piedmont Athletic Conference season and the loss to the Patriots was the first PAC setback in four seasons.


Not the way a coach hopes his team enters postseason play. 


Well, most teams.


“The PG game at the end helped us,” veteran coach Rick Maness said as his team prepared for Tuesday’s West Regional championship game against No. 1 seed Pine Lake Prep in Mooresville. “You hate to lose a game, especially for the seniors who were trying to go 48-0 in conference play, but it kind of gave us a little jolt.”


Having given up 32 goals during the regular season, the Warriors’ defense has clamped down in the playoffs. No. 6 seed Wheatmore started the postseason with a 8-0 win over No. 27 Lincoln Charter, followed by a 9-0 win over No. 11 Mount Pleasant. A 3-0 victory at No. 3 Wilkes Central preceded a 4-0 win at No. 2 Hendersonville.


“After the first two, I wasn’t sure about the next two, but darned if we didn’t get it done,” said Maness. “I was so proud of what we accomplished in Hendersonville. We watched video, went to work knowing what we had to do to be successful and went out and did it.”


Maness said there was also some luck involved. Rainy weather forced the delay in the start of the match and with Hendersonville having graduation the next night, starting and finishing the game that night was a must.


When the game started, WHS dominated as Shea Driggers, Meredith Partin and Maggie Messner combined with goalie Lucy Lockwood to help keep the second-seeded Bearcats at bay. It was a school-record 27th career shutout for Lockwood in goal, who has 12 this season. 


With Ellie Garrison leading the offense, scoring hasn’t been a problem with 128 team goals this year. Garrison, who became the state’s all-time leading scorer earlier this season, has tallied 73 this year for 275 in her career.


“It’s not what I expected,” Garrison admitted about being one win away from a third straight trip to the state title game. “But I always knew we could step our game up and perform at a high level. The whole team has surprised me recently. It’s great to see us play for each other and push each other.” 


All the way to the West Regional finals.


The game is a rematch of last year’s West Region finals, which then No. 2 seed Wheatmore won 5-2 over the No. 1 seed Pride.