High school girls soccer: Locklear a beacon of light for Cougars

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 28, 2023

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — Rowan County Goalkeeper of the Year is an award whose time has come.

The elite goal-scorers received the Player of the Year award for so many years that conferences finally started employing Goalkeeper of the Year or Defensive Player of the Year accolades to recognize the overlooked girls whose job is goal prevention.

Carson coach Lauren West lobbied for a county keeper of the year award — and got it.

It’s the right time for it and the perfect year for it, as all six schools benefited from above average goal-keeping. No fewer than five goalkeepers are on this year’s all-county team, which has to be a record. It also means they were considered by coaching staffs as one of the best players on their respective teams.

Only four Rowan schools qualified for the state playoffs and all four were all shut out in the first round, but the goalkeepers kept doing their thing right to the end.

In this year of the goalkeeper, Carson senior Alona Locklear is deemed by the Post to be the cream of a bumper crop. Locklear was the South Piedmont Conference Goalkeeper of the Year for 2022 and repeated this season.

“Alona also would have gotten that accolade when we were in the North Piedmont Conference when she was a sophomore, but they only had a Player of the Year honor,” West said.

Locklear totaled 451 career saves in her three varsity seasons. Save totals, of course, depend directly on the volume of shots you’re facing.

When Locklear was a sophomore, Carson was winning a lot of matches and dominated possession with players such as Lani Isley, Hannah Isley,Riley Isley, Makayla Borst, Emelyn Sotelo and Lindsey Conrad., so Locklear didn’t have to stop a lot of shots.

But the last two seasons, she’s had to scramble.

“She’s experienced the ups and downs of the program,” West said. “She was there when we peaked with talent and she’s also experienced the struggles of rebuilding.  Despite all the challenges that our program has seen, Alona has always been a beacon of light and stability in the goal. From her first practice as a Carson Cougar, I knew she had something special.”

Locklear got started as a keeper at Southeast Middle School.

“We didn’t have a keeper, so Coach put me there,” Locklear said. “They told me to try it, that I might like it.”

She worried about getting hurt and her mother worried about her getting hurt, but the fear gradually gave way to joy. Locklear had found her athletic passion.

As a Carson freshman, she was behind two experienced keepers and played for the jayvees. She had a head-turning performance with 20 saves against Hickory Ridge. COVID stopped her season after two games, but she showed enough that West knew she wouldn’t have to worry about goaltending for a long time.

“Then my sophomore year, it was pretty easy,” Locklear said. “We weren’t giving up many shots, so I could be a very calm goalkeeper.”

She kept a match with strong South Iredell scoreless until the final minute. Her best performance was 15 saves in the 3A state playoffs against A.C. Reynolds.

But everything changed her junior year, as she moved into a leadership role, communicating more with the defense, advising them on positioning.

“The shots were coming at me faster,” Locklear said. I had to kind of learn to play goalkeeper all over again. We played (state champ) Lake Norman Charter twice and they just keep coming at you. They made some beautiful shots, and even the girls they subbed in were really good players.”

Fifty-one of Locklear’s 185 saves that season came in the match-ups with Lake Norman Charter.

“Due to her exceptional play in the goal, Alona was the only keeper nominated for Keeper of the Year at the SPC All-Conference meeting in 2022,” West said. “She works hard and she’s coachable. Opposing coaches rave about her play, while opposing players praise her sportsmanship.  She is the best goalkeeper that has ever come through Carson.”

Locklear made a basketball comeback as a senior. She hadn’t played since eighth grade, but she knew the Cougars needed her. She contributed quite a few 3-pointers and a lot of leadership.

“That team was so young I was like the team mother,” Locklear said with a laugh. “But I felt like they needed me and playing basketball was the best way I could think of to get in shape for the soccer season.”

Locklear kept it rolling as a senior goalkeeper. Many of her finest moments came in the  1-all tie with West Rowan. She frustrated the Falcons with 28 stops in that one and earned praise from both head coaches.

“We knew a win against West probably would put us in the playoffs, so we really wanted it,” Locklear said. “It was a tie, so we didn’t win and didn’t make the playoffs, but we didn’t lose that game, either.”

She had 44 saves in the two matches with Lake Norman Charter and 192 for the season. She was the last line of defense for the youngest varsity team West ever has coached at Carson.

The multiple Goalkeeper of the Year awards have surprised her. She’s tried to stay humble. Five girls were nominated for SPC Goalkeeper of the Year. Locklear came out on top in the voting.

“It’s an honor because there were some amazing goalkeepers in our conference,” Locklear said. “South’s keeper (Cheyanne Hunter) blocked so many shots when we played them, it was unbelievable.”

Locklear has an offer to play soccer for Carolina University in Winston-Salem, a program headed by former South Rowan coach Kyle Neal.

So that’s next for her, and she has a solid plan for her degree.

“I can see myself coaching soccer one day, but mostly I want to teach kids with special needs,” Locklear said. “Putting a smile on a kid’s face, that’s what puts a smile on my face. Those smiles are my world.”