Parkview’s girls soccer season ended in sadness.
The Panthers gave up a pair of one-goal leads at North Gwinnett in the Class AAAAAAA semifinals, endured a grueling loss on penalty kicks and saw their hopes of a repeat state championship disappear. Their stunning 40-match winning streak against Georgia competition was gone, too.
“It was probably the worst loss of my soccer career,” Parkview’s Nieva Gaither said of her junior season finale.
Yet in that loss, Gaither showed her mettle.
She had landed awkwardly on her ankle in the first half of the Panthers’ second-round win over Milton, spraining the deltoid ligament and missing the entire quarterfinal match against Lassiter. She began the semifinal match on the bench, then entered during the first half to a round of applause from the fans.
She was far from healthy against North — she still isn’t 100 percent and goes to physical therapy twice a week — but scored both Parkview goals in regulation against the Bulldogs, the eventual state champions in AAAAAAA.
“In the semifinal, she was probably about 70 percent to be honest with you,” Parkview girls coach Judson Hamby said. “For her to still create chances and still will us across the line at times says a lot about her. … The only thing we knew going into the North game is that she can shoot and head but she’s not going to tackle. She just didn’t have enough range of motion to go through it. We had to play her in spurts.”
Gaither, the Daily Post Player of the Year for the second straight season, has delivered those type of key plays throughout her first three years of high school soccer. She made her debut as a freshman in the midfield, her natural position in club soccer, but has made her mark at Parkview as a high-scoring striker in 2018 and 2019.
The Furman commitment broke the school’s single-season scoring record in a 37-goal, 11-assist sophomore season. Her two goals against North gave her 37 goals and 11 assists this season, too.
The individual stats were impressive, but her team’s season-ending loss lingers. She thinks finishing short of the goal will fuel the Panthers’ hunger for another state championship in 2020.
“I felt like we were doing so well, winning a bunch of games and we were on track to win state and then, I just don’t know how to explain it, it’s just disappointing,” Gaither said. “We’ve got to work harder. We need to get further than we did and work harder to get to the final and win the whole thing. … It’s going to motivate me to work harder honestly. I want (my sister Narissa) to win state again and especially since it’s my last year with her. I just want it to be a good one.”
Hamby has no doubt that his star player will reach her goals.
“For her, the next step will be going out her senior year and she’s going to want to go out and continue to work on those team goals,” Hamby said. “I’ve never questioned her ability to lead by example. At times, it’s her work rate and her individual stuff that a lot of people don’t see. That will probably be higher than ever knowing that she’s not only preparing for next year but also going to college.”