Lake Norman Publications

Senior trio leads Hough attack with playoffs on horizon

Seniors Kylee Thompson, right, and Sarah Funderburk celebrate a goal in last year’s victory versus Cox Mill in the third round of the playoffs. /File photo

CORNELIUS – A high-powered offense led by a trio of senior forwards has the Hough Huskies rolling down the stretch of the regular season, with just under two weeks remaining before the state playoffs commence. 

Avery Rush, Kylee Thompson and Sarah Funderburk – the team’s leaders in goals and assists – were playing together long before they arrived at Hough. The three seniors know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and perform in lock-step out on the field. 

“I feel like because we have that history it makes us so much better up front and collectively as a team,” Thompson said. “It brings sort of a family atmosphere to the team.” 

“There’s no drama on this team,” Funderburk added. “There’s not a single person that I don’t trust on the field.”

Head coach David Smith echoed those sentiments, noting that the cohesiveness on the field is a byproduct of the team’s overall togetherness. 

“On the field, it’s just knowing each other and being in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Off the field, the three of them all lead in different ways. Avery is a little more quiet, while Sarah is more happy-go-lucky and outgoing, and then Kylee is very business-like when it comes down to it. But they all support the younger players on the team and I think their willingness to put themselves out there goes a long way with the other girls.”

Funderburk, Rush and Thompson each bring a different element to the Hough attack and the combined effect of those skills has proven overwhelming for most opposing defenses. 

Thompson, who’s committed to play collegiately at Appalachian State, leads the team with 54 points, including a team-high 19 goals to go along with 16 assists. Rush, who recently signed with Catawba College, boasts 13 goals and 12 assists, while Funderburk is tied for the team lead with 16 assists to pair with 15 goals. 

“All three of us have our own unique style of play,” Funderburk said. “(Avery) is really good at taking the ball out of the air, I’ve got the speed and (Kylee) is really good with her shots. I don’t score as much, but my main thing is dribbling the ball to the end line and then crossing it.”

“Each of them has their own skill set and strengths – things that they might do better than the others – and I think they kind of complement each other in that way,” Smith added. 

As the season draws to a close, the seniors are eager to finish on a high note. That’s especially true for Funderburk, who doesn’t plan to play in college like the other two. 

“This is my last time ever playing soccer,” she said. 

Funderburk specifically referenced a pair of season-ending 2-1 losses at Ardrey Kell in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs each of the past two years. Those Ardrey Kell teams would go on to play for the state championship both years, which includes capturing the title last year. 

“I really want to beat them,” she said. “We’ve been to the quarterfinals both years, so this year we definitely want to go farther.” 

While the game didn’t feature the same stakes as the two contests played in the state quarterfinals, Hough went on the road and beat Ardrey Kell 3-2 on April 23, one day after speaking with the Citizen for this article.

“Our team is definitely different this year,” Rush added while speaking on the topic of advancing past the quarterfinals. “The style of play is so much different than those past years.”

Smith pointed to his team playing a “high risk” style this season that emphasizes creating scoring opportunities for the forwards. He commended his midfield, back line of defenders and goalies for their role in allowing the team to take those chances. 

“I think defensively we’ve probably surprised ourselves – not myself and my other coaches – but the players have probably surprised themselves defensively with how solid they’ve been,” he said. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or be too flashy. We’ve got two fantastic goalkeepers who are both sophomores but they both play way above their age. And I think that confidence in them allows our backs to play a little more freely. Collectively, the midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers have risen to the challenge and that’s been exciting to watch.”

The Huskies (17-1-1) have been utterly dominant against Queen City 3A/4A conference competition, conceding just one goal total in those 10 games – all victories – while scoring at least seven goals in each contest. 

While those games haven’t been competitive, their other victories have come against some of the state’s best teams, including Hickory, West Forsyth, Cardinal Gibbons and South Meck. The lone loss came courtesy of Millbrook, which has yet to lose a game this year.

“This group just has the willingness to fight and do that little bit of extra,” Smith said of his team’s success versus some of the better teams on its schedule. “The extra run here or the extra effort to track back defensively, I think things like that make a big difference. This group has a nice cohesiveness about them where it doesn’t have to just be one person. They’re all capable of chipping in and I think that’s massive.”

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