By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
The seasons couldn’t have been more different, but the end result is the same for PikeView’s soccer teams.
Both stand one game away from a berth in next week’s state tournament.
“We’ve had to work through more adversity than most teams have to deal with,” said Panthers girls coach Sam Hill, whose steadily improving team overcame the loss of three key starters to injuries. “We’ve had to be resilient.”
PikeView (14-5-1) will play Nicholas County (10-10-2) at 5 p.m. today at East River Soccer Complex in Bluefield for the Class AA-A Region 3 title.
The Panther boys (17-4-1) will square off with Pocahontas County (13-3-1) at approximately 7:15 p.m., also at East River.
The boys’ road has been much easier.
“We’ve been very blessed — only one injury,” first-year coach Bill Hopkins said. “That was one of our forwards, Isaac Van Blaricom. He’s been out the last eight games, but we expect him back tonight.”
Hill wishes he had been that lucky. Senior Hope Nester, the team’s leading scorer and an all-stater as a sophomore, suffered a severe knee injury just five minutes into the Panthers’ first scrimmage. She had missed her junior campaign, as well, because of a knee.
Two very promising underclassmen were also cut down by injuries, sophomore Madison May in the second game, and freshman Maya Klein in the seventh.
Yet after a 1-3 start, PikeView went on a roll, winning nine of its next 10 games.
“We had to put new pieces together to overcome challenges,” Hill said.
Center-midfielders Brooke Baker, a senior, and Sophie Klein, a sophomore, rose to the occasion, as did junior Shyann Carr and freshman Lexi O’Dell.
“Brooke and Sophie have been our two most consistent players,” Hill said. “Shyann has played all over the place and carried some of the scoring load. Lexi is our leading scorer with 12.”
The Panthers played Nicholas back on Sept. 28 and pulled out a 1-0 victory.
“They’re a very organized team,” Hill said. “They have a really gifted center-midfielder, Dominique Villasenor, they play through a lot. They also have a striker who’s fast and dangerous in the open field, Serena Mullins.
“We’ll have to put pressure on the ball. We can’t give their midfielders time and space to play. We also must not break down defensively, and let them get anyone through 1-on-1 with a defender or our keeper.”
The Panthers have appeared in three of the last four state tournaments, falling 2-0 in overtime to Weir (2009), 2-1 to Grafton (2010) and 2-1 to Fairmont Senior (2012). PikeView led both Grafton and Fairmont Senior 1-0 at halftime.
PikeView’s boys competed in the 2011 state tournament and fell 6-0 to Charleston Catholic.
This year, the Panthers lost to the Fighting Irish by a 1-0 count back on Oct. 10.
The goal was the only one surrendered by PikeView in its last 12 games. It was a header off a corner kick.
“They say defense wins championships, and I’m hoping that’s the case,” Hopkins said. “It’s been especially good those last 12 games.”
A trio of Panthers have excelled — goalkeeper Austin Cordell, sweeper Jason Weitzel and stopper Alex Testerman.
Amazingly, in this era of specialization, Weitzel and Testerman play other sports. Weitzel is a top cross country runner, while Testerman kicks and plays defense for the PikeView football team.
PikeView defeated Pocahontas County 4-0 on Sept. 14. The Panthers were in control that game.
“We dominated the midfield and maintained possession for 80-90 percent of the game,” Hopkins said. “But we’re a different team today, and I expect they will be too. They have a good program year-in and year out.”
The Class AA-A state tournament will be played next Friday at the YMCA’s Carter Family Foundation Stadium. The Region 3 girls winner will take on the Region 2 winner at approximately 11:45 a.m., while the boys winner will also play a Region 2 team at approximately 6:45 p.m.
— E-mail: dstillwell