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LOOSE BALL. (L to R) Northern Nash’s Claire Fleming and Southern Nash’s Hannah Brock try to come up with the ball during Monday afternoon’s Big East Conference girls soccer showdown in Stanhope. (Graphic photos by Geoff Neville)
STANHOPE -- Joe McCarthy came to Nash County in the 1980s to play soccer at North Carolina Wesleyan College.

Little did McCarthy know that he would never leave.

McCarthy, considered one of the forefathers on prep soccer in the county, won the 500th match of his storied boys/girls career Monday as his Northern Nash Lady Knights bested host Southern Nash by a 5-0 score in a Big East Conference matchup.

McCarthy first coached soccer at Northern Nash in 1988 -- back when the sport was first being introduced on the high school level.

Aside from a three-year hiatus, McCarthy is the only soccer coach NNHS has known since then for both boys and girls.

“I always wanted to be involved in athletics,’’ McCarthy said. “I started off coaching football and basketball at Nash Central Junior High. Then, I had the opportunity to do the soccer job at Northern.’’

McCarthy’s impressive list of career accomplishments include two conference championships (both with the boys in 2006 and 2008), five Conference Coach of the Year awards, eight All-Area Coach of the Year awards and recognition as the North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association Region 3 Coach of the Year.

He’s also guided both the Knights and Lady Knights to state playoff appearances in each of the past 14 campaigns.

“I’ve had a lot of good assistant coaches and great players and parents,’’ McCarthy said. “The parents and the school administration have been very supportive, and we’ve been fortunate to have kids who want to work.’’

Northern wrapped up McCarthy’s accomplishment Monday with a shutout victory at Southern Nash as NN keeper Ally Glover didn’t allow a Ladybirds’ shot to find the back of the net.

NNHS controlled the flow of play for most of the match, and the Lady Knights pushed ahead to a 3-0 cushion at intermission.

Northern took the lead for good off thanks to some quality transition work at the 7-minute mark of the opening half.

After a Southern Nash corner kick attempt was unsuccessful, the Lady Knights immediately pushed the ball forward, thanks in part to a strong rush from Claire Fleming.

Fleming capped off her play with the goal off the right side, and Northern Nash had surged ahead for good at 1-0.

Five minutes later, Fleming used her speed once again to create a scoring chance, and she finished off the opporunity to push the Lady Knights in charge by a 2-0 score.

Haley Claytor, who usually plays either at midfield or along the back wall, was moved to forward for the match by McCarthy in an attempt to upgrade Northern Nash’s offense.

The plan worked as Claytor delivered three assists, including a nifty feed to Lauren Bullock that resulted in another goal 15 minutes into the opening half.

Ahead 3-0, Northern Nash wrapped things up in the second half thanks to tallies from Fleming (to complete her hat trick) and Amber Jones.

Northern Nash is now 8-6-1 overall to go with a 2-4 worksheet in the Big East Conference.

The Lady Knights will resume their league ledger today at Nash Central. First kick is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Northern Nash will take a quick break from conference action when the Lady Knights hit the road on Thursday for a contest at Louisburg High School.

The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Patterson Field on the LHS campus.

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