GREENSBORO — As Bradley Burnette got off the bench and walked into his familiar center spot on the back line with 11 minutes left in Tuesday’s East-West All-Star boys soccer game, he paused for a second.
The announcer at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s soccer stadium bellowed his name and on cue, Burnette raised his arms pointing his fingers to the sky as a small section of fans gave him an ovation.
It was, if nothing else, a mix of emotions for the recently-graduated senior.
“It was the end of my high school career so it was bittersweet but I won so I like going out on my career with a win,” Burnette said.
Burnette and close friend Madi Britt represented Lumberton in Tuesday’s East-West boys and girls soccer games, with the East boys winning 5-2 and the girls losing 4-1.
Though numerous players on both teams are bound for collegiate careers, it was the last varsity game for the two Robeson County representatives. Both will focus on academics this fall, with Britt attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Burnette headed for North Carolina State University.
“I was picking at Madi the other night … ‘This is the beginning of a new chapter in your life. This is the end of your high school career,’” said Lumberton soccer coach Kenny Simmons, who attended the game as a fan. “College begins here in about a month, so it’s like a new beginning for them. This is the final chapter for them in high school.”
It was a chapter finished amongst the best.
In a white No. 1 jersey with blue shorts, Britt was the first player introduced to the crowd. But rather than take the field at the forward position she’s dominated at while at Lumberton, she instead moved back towards the midfield.
“We had like eight forwards on our team so I was like, ‘You know what, I’ll take one for the team,’” she said. “It was definitely something new. I wasn’t used to it. I feel more comfortable at the top.”
Britt had playing time in more than half the game, though her touches were limited and many balls were taken away. She had several opportunities on goal, including a narrowly-saved shot at the net midway through the second half.
Burnette was in his familiar spot on the field, both offensively and on set piece plays. He logged his team’s first shot on goal with a header four minutes into the game.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Coach let me get up there and go for it.”
He also was on the defending end of multiple penalty kicks, clearing the ball away at crucial moments.
“It was one of the most intense games I’ve ever played,” Burnette said. “The speed is five times as fast as high school and it was just a great game. I enjoyed playing with everybody.”
The game was the end of several days of work with the teams. Both players had to be in Greensboro on Sunday to start practicing, with two practice sessions and a scrimmage as the players adjusted to each others’ styles.
“In every practice, it was much harder than anything we’ve had (at Lumberton),” Britt said. “Everyone was competing for a spot. It was just really cool to see all of the competitiveness at this level.
Burnette said it was eye opening to see some of the skills possessed by his teammates. At points in the games, players broke out skill moves including a flip throw-in and a bicycle kick.
“The caliber of soccer players in North Carolina is unreal. You don’t see that in Robeson County,” Burnette said.” With stuff like this, you see how unreal these guys are.”
The two were the school’s first representives in the sport since 2011 when Damilia Brooks made the girls game in 2011. The last boys player to make the game was Evan Musselwhite in 2004. Simmons coached the team in 2009.
Both players counted the game as a positive experience and said that the high level of competition brought out their best. In the end, the only regret Britt had was being on the losing side of the scoreboard.
“It was definitely one of the toughest competitions going against the top players in the state,” Britt said. “Our team, we tried but it was tough.
“You don’t want to go out like that but the experience was awesome and I wouldn’t have wanted to end it any other way.”