"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."