For the seniors on the Marvin Ridge soccer team, the time is now or never.
The Mavericks have boasted one of the most competitive soccer teams in the state since the school opened in 2007. The boys soccer team brought home the class 3A state championship in 2009, and their ambition hasn’t slowed down, with the Mavericks making a run in the state playoffs every year since.
This year, with 11 seniors spearheading the Maverick dominance, they’ve blown through regular season opponents, dropping only one game to Ardrey Kell, and finishing the season 16-1-1. With an impressive record like that and a state ranking that has held at No. 1 and No. 2 all season according to Eurosportscorecard.com, it’s hard to concentrate on anything other than a ring.
Coach Jason Zak said it’s the leadership of his seniors, and their desire for a state championship, that will carry the Mavericks through the playoffs – where they’ve earned the No. 1 overall seed in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs, which began with an opening-round game against Kings Mountain on Oct. 30.
“I’ve got great seniors,” Zak said. “We have high expectations for ourselves. There’s the carrot dangling in front of them for sure. A lot of these guys went to the state title game in 2009, they saw the excitement and they felt the energy. I think they want that. They want that for their senior year and they want that memory.”
But it’s more than just veteran leadership that has carried them through regular season and a Southern Carolina conference championship, as the Mavericks are loaded with talent.
Klint Parker, Daniel Smith, Will Green and Kyle Enoch, four senior starters, have been crucial to the success of the Marvin Ridge team. Their versatility and technical ability allow them to occupy multiple positions throughout the course of the game, easily shifting from a wide position into a more central role when needed.
While the Mavericks boast one of the fiercest offenses in the state, their defense is just as powerful. Senior defenders Jason Corday, Eric Newsome, Chris Conneely and sophomore Richard Van Gurp have orchestrated 10 shutouts so far this season. With a more-than-capable defense, the high-powered midfielders like Parker and Enoch have more leeway after long runs.
“When you’re playing Marvin Ridge, you don’t need to just be worried about our offense. You need to fear our defense,” Parker said. “We can shutout any team in the state. It’s a defense to fear.
“As an offense, we know we can get the goals. But we’re going to be counting on our defense to get multiple shutouts throughout playoffs,” Parker added. “We trust them to do that and we can count on them to make the plays that they need to make.”
After suffering heartbreaking losses to Charlotte Catholic the last two years well into the state tournament (a team that they took down this season 4-1), the Mavericks know what’s at stake for their senior year.
“We’re playing with the mindset knowing that if we don’t win then we’re done,” Green said. “Before, if we lost we could bounce back. There isn’t any bouncing back now. That’s starting to hit me, as a senior. This could be it, any game from here on out.”
Green, who’s scored 15 goals for the Mavericks with six assists so far this season, said he’s looking to continue his soccer career next year at either N.C. State, Virginia Tech or Appalachian State.
Parker, whose older brother Kyle played on the 2009 state championship team and is now a starter for the Charlotte 49ers, leads Marvin Ridge with 19 goals. After dedicating his junior year to the Charlotte Soccer Academy, Parker is ready to bring home the state ring and live up the expectations set for the Maverick team.
“I think everyone knows a lot is on the line, not just the seniors,” said Parker, who just committed to play for the United States Air Force Academy. “Some of us get to continue on playing. But for some of us, these next couple of games, whether you get the result or not, could be the last. It’s definitely been a lot more pressure. We’re going to be playing with more intensity to ourselves, like something is in the back of our mind.”
Their domination of the Southern Carolina conference during the regular season made it clear that the Mavericks were getting prepped for the tournament with every game. Until Oct. 14, it looked like they would make it out with an unblemished record, but a 2-2 tie with Cuthbertson left an unwanted mark on an otherwise perfect conference record.
The Mavericks beat the former 2A state champions earlier in the season, 3-2, but an inability to finish when the two teams met again cost them the win.
“I think we got complacent with the winning we had,” said Smith, a forward who leads the team with 16 assists. “We had a lot of chances but we just couldn’t put them away.”
Zak said that the tie isn’t indicative of the way his team played, who had possession of the ball 70 to 80 percent of the game.
“It was frustrating,” Zak said. “Credit to Cuthbertson, when they needed it, they got it and that’s the sign of a team that fights. I respect that and you have to tip your hat to that. Overall it was disappointing, but it could’ve ended up being a blessing.
“In soccer, the best team doesn’t always win. It’s a reminder to keep us hungry. Even though we can play at a high level and, in our minds, dominate a team, we still may not win. So you can’t take anything for granted and I hope it turns out to be a blessing. (It’s) almost like they did us a favor by giving us a reality check.”
The tie with Cuthbertson helped push the Mavericks through the rest of regular season, toppling Piedmont, Sun Valley and rival Weddington with an impressive 4-0 win. With a conference title already claimed, the Mavs are ready to make a run at states and aren’t bowing down to the pressure of being ranked one of the best.
“Rankings are rankings. Until you play the game, that will tell you the story,” Parker said. “We don’t put too much thought into it… In the state tournament, there’s no such thing as an underdog. It’s anyone’s game.”
If the Mavericks did believe in an underdog, it certainly wouldn’t be their team. They’ve used their dominating blend of size and speed all season to keep opponents off the scoreboard while lighting it up on the other end, and will look to do the same in the playoffs.
But even with their supremacy, the Mavs and their coaching staff know that it’s going to take more than talent at this point to win a championship.
“I hate talking about it because Lady Luck and I don’t get along,” Zak said. “There’s an amount of luck that you need to win a state title. They call football a game of inches but I think in soccer, it’s even more so. There’s always a little luck involved.
“If we play at our level and do what we think we can do, we should win. But that’s why they play the game. Wins aren’t given, and that’s what I’ve been expressing to the guys. You can’t take anything for granted. While we feel in our minds that it’s ours, there are other teams who disagree and they want to take that from us.”
Regardless of the outcome of the 2013 season, the Maverick seniors know that their soccer career at Marvin Ridge will be one to remember.
“We’ve been playing together since sixth grade,” Enoch said. “We’re good friends on and off the field. We know this is it, and we’re in it together.”