When Ethan Good saw the talent and senior leadership the Cuthbertson boys soccer team had lost following the 2011 season, he didn’t see the Cavs’ 2012 season ending the way it did.
As he headed to Wingate University to take part in coach Nelson Garner’s preseason team camp, Good’s expectations still weren’t very high. And he wasn’t alone, as Good said there was a team-wide sense that 2012 may not be the Cavs year.
But it was while at Wingate that Good’s trepidations suddenly turned into a guarded sense that this team may be special.
“For the first time we went out to Wingate for camp and played eight or nine games,” said Good, who is now a senior defender. “When we were there, we were just plowing through teams. It was almost ridiculous. Coming from last year with all of the talent we lost, we were thinking, ‘Man, we are going to struggle this year.’
“But we finished second overall at camp. We tied a team we should’ve beat and we lost to another team we should’ve beat, but other than that we were just plowing through teams. It was pretty unbelievable.”
And the Cavs never slowed down. They finished last season 22-3-1 and, with a 4-1 win against Carborro on Nov. 17, earned the Class 2A state championship crown.
“I don’t think we thought we were unstoppable,” senior David Moll said. “It was basically that we thought we had to out-work our opponents because we had lost so much from last year.
“Our biggest strength was our chemistry and togetherness as a team because we were so tight on and off the field. That’s what it would’ve taken to beat us, just having a team that could out-work us.”
The same mentality that helped the Cavs storm through the regular season and playoffs is what’s pushing them this season. Despite winning their first Class 2A title, the Cavs feel like they have to prove themselves all over again.
Cuthberston moves this season from Class 2A to a loaded Class 3A conference featuring, among others, Weddington and Marvin Ridge – two teams which advanced to the quarterfinals of last year’s 3A state championships.
“We kind of have a target on our backs this year,” Good said. “We kind of snuck into the playoffs last year; I think we were ranked eighth in the state. We had the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, but we were ranked so far down that everyone kind of undermined us and overlooked us.
“All of the sudden we made it all the way. It’s a humbling experience to win states and now we get another shot to move up to 3A and do it all again, so it’s going to be really exciting. But I don’t think winning (the 2A state title) gives us an advantage because teams are gunning for us.”
The Cavs have plenty of returning talent to make a run at another crown, despite jumping up in classifications. Good was a N.C. Soccer Coaches’ Association All-State defender last season and added five goals and four assists.
Moll had six goals and four assists a season ago and Evan Martinez was the second-leading scorer with 14 goals and seven assists. Senior Josh Sosinski anchors the defense from his goalkeeper spot, where he allowed just 18 goals while making 159 saves and recording 21 shutouts.
While the Cavs graduated N.C. Coaches’ Association all-region performers Jason Drain and Bailey Thompson and top scoring options Collins Obi and Thomas Vigdor, they feel good about their chances.
“Talent-wise, we definitely weren’t the best team in the state last year, but we out-worked our opponents,” Good said. “We had great chemistry and I think that’s what helped us win it. We have to keep that mindset and do it again.
“Our conference is going to be one of the toughest in 3A, so it’s going to be a very, very tough road, but we’ll make the best of it.”
With their returning talent and the addition of players like Aaron Brown, Jake Souther, Kyle Lynip and Nathan Gordon, the Cavs think they may be even better than last year.
“Having Nathan is such a blessing,” Good said. “We needed a center-back (to replace Thompson) and he’s been playing there his whole life. He’s going to end up replacing Bailey, who was an awesome player for us last year.
Now we have our whole back line returning and with Nathan, that’s just adding to it.
“It’s like we (don’t) have any holes, I think we’ve filled them.”
With their roster retooled and expectations high, the Cavs have their memories of last year and ambitions set on doing it all over again.
“I know last year the support was OK at first, but it increased as the season went on.” Martinez said. “It’s exciting, there’s a lot of buzz around here. Winning it last year was great, but we have a whole new mindset. We have these new players who fit in so well and we have our experience from last season, so we’re going to go try to do it again.
“It’s exciting, we know we have to work a lot harder to keep it up.”
As the Cavs prepare to defend their crown, they’re excited for the added pressure it brings and the new conference – which will bring new rivalries and challenges.
“I’m excited to play new teams and have new challenges,” Moll said. “We play Weddington in the preseason, but to get to play them twice and getting to see new teams is exciting. We have to step up and make a name for ourselves in 3A this year, and that’s something we’re ready to do.
“We can’t sit back and think we got it since we won last year. We have to go get it again.”
If the Cavs follow a similar path from last year and continue to work hard and work together, they feel they are still the team to beat.
“Our record doesn’t matter and our achievements really don’t matter,” Good said. “If we work hard, then it’ll show up in the end. If we don’t win this year, it’s OK because we’ll know in the bottom of our hearts that we worked as hard as we could, especially us seniors, because a lot of us aren’t going to play in college so we have one more chance to play and we have to give it our all.
“I never even fathomed winning states last year, but I tell (Moll) all the time, ‘Dude, we are state champions.’ And now we get a chance to do it all again. It’s going to be a long, tough season, but it’s going to be fun getting that shot.”