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Wait till next year


Two teenage girls and their moms out for an afternoon spin? Not exactly. Racing to the emergency room in an ambulance, foreheads gashed and bleeding, Laurel O'Neal and Jessica Cocke were apologizing to each other.

"We both felt so bad. We kept saying, 'I'm so sorry. It was my fault,'" says 14-year-old O'Neal. "I knew how hard Jessica must have played to get this far. We both had."

O'Neal and Cocke had collided going for a header in the final game of the State 3-A High School Soccer Championship. Neither wanted to leave the game, though later, between the two of them, they would need more than 70 stitches.

O'Neal's team won the championship, 3-0, over Cocke's Asheville team that Saturday afternoon. Teammates called O'Neal at the hospital on a cell phone to tell her the good news. "I seriously would have given anything to have been there when they got their awards. I missed all that stuff--the cameras, the speeches, the team jumping up and down together, all my friends," says O'Neal, her voice trailing off.

Then she grins, adding in a level voice, "It makes me want to win it again next year even more. And I want to be there for the whole game."

Next month O'Neal is off to Alabama as a member of the state team for a week's worth of trials in the Olympic Development Program. She'll be competing for a slot on the roster of the Southeast regional team.

"The doctor told me not to head the ball for six weeks. I don't think I can last that long," she laughs. "Soccer's what I do."

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