Bengals Miss Out on Big Year

Photo: Gregg Martin Photographic Design

The 2020 girls soccer season was set to be a big one for the Blythewood girls.

After finishing a close second behind Region 4-5A winner Spring Valley, the Bengals finished 15-5-2 and 7-1 in region play. They reached the second round of the state playoffs before bowing out to Riverside.

This spring offered an open road to a region title and a long playoff run for Blythewood, until the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close and all after-school activities to cease.

“We had a strong returning group, even though we lost seven seniors,” Blythewood head coach Kathy Knight said. “Ariana Paez and Claudia Watson stepped into leadership roles for the team, we got a new strength coach at Blythewood who really worked hard with the girls over the summer and in the preseason strength program. They were really looking good. They were mentally prepared, physically prepared, and just getting around to getting tactically prepared when everything stopped.”

The Bengals had gotten off to a 3-2-1 start, including the Viking Cup preseason invitational. They lost 2-0 to Chapin in a preseason game, but followed up with a 2-0 preseason shutout at Airport and a 1-1 tie with Greenville in the Viking Cup.

They posted a 4-3 season opening victory over White Knoll before falling 1-0 at Lexington. After home games against Providence Athletic Club and West Florence were cancelled because of rain, Blythewood traveled to Memorial Stadium to take on Dreher March 11.

In that game, Amy Carroll scored on Paez’s free kick in the first half. Carroll scored again in the second half with a Megan Compas assist. Compas put in the final goal of a 3-1 victory with a Paez assist.

Three days later, Gov. Henry McMaster ordered the schools closed effective immediately, through the end of March. That order was extended through April and ultimately led to the closing of schools for the remainder of the school year.

Those who took the biggest hit in the prospects of a lost season were the six seniors, Paez, Watson, Carroll, Kathrynne Milligan, Sam Boyt and Liz Schossler.

“There’s a lot of disappointment for all of them,” Knight said. “All of the team is going through it, but our seniors’ most heartbreaking thing is missing out on the traditions we have of honoring our seniors. We took their senior signs and made them into yard signs to present to them, but they’re missing out on the things we do to celebrate their high school career, their importance to the program and to the community. And I felt like we at least would have had Claudia and Ariana attend the Clash of the Carolinas (N.C-S.C. all-star soccer match), and them and others in the North-South game. Their final moments of high school have been a really hard pill to swallow for them.”

Paez has committed to play for Newberry next season, and Watson committed to play for Anderson.

“Ariana has always been a midfielder, but this year we moved her to Center Back this year because of her speed and aggressiveness,” Knight said. “I was hoping for her to play that out as the season went along, that would have been key for our defense. Watson has been really strong for us for the past four years. She really turns and strikes the ball well.”

Carroll had just gotten her first starting position on the team in the Dreher game, where she scored two goals. Milligan had scored a PK in the Greenville tie in the Viking Cup.

“That senior group is a very strong group,” Knight said. “With their leadership and all the underclassmen talent we had, we were looking forward to winning the region and being competitive in a long run in state.”

Unfortunately that didn’t happen for the Bengals, who will likely have 11 seasoned players on the roster next year. Minus the seniors, the 2020 Blythewood team had six freshmen—four of whom started—a sophomore, and four juniors.

“We are going to have a good team as a whole,” Knight said. “They’re all committed to fundraising too. Prior to this year they raised $12,500 for the program and as a whole we’ve already talked about doing service projects. On the field, our strength and ability has improved so much that this year I noticed that when we went to the bench, there was little or no drop-off in play between the starters and the subs. It’s exciting to see everyone focused and ready to go perform on the field, and I think that will carry over to next year.”