by Lee Noles
MONROE – Soccer can be viewed as a game of contradictions. On one hand, the offense can easily be driven by individuality where defense must rely on cohesion for success.
Right now, the back line for the Union Academy girls’ soccer team has merged five distinct personalities to form a unified group that has etched the program’s name in the North Carolina record books. And more records could still be on the way.
The Cardinals’ 20 shutouts this year rank the program in the top-10 all time in the state for a season, according to records kept by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. Depending on what happens in the 1A playoffs, the Cardinals, who have allowed just two goals this season, could match the North Carolina record for fewest goals allowed in a year. Carrboro and Hickory share the honor with two goals allowed apiece, and each school accomplished the feat during the 2015 season.
“They are a very dedicated, hard-working group who tries to do everything we ask them to, and to the best of their ability,” Union Academy coach Vic Johnson said. “Luckily, it is made up of some upperclassmen who have been around me for a while, and with the addition of a stud freshman, and (Chiara Coppin) as a sophomore in goal, it’s a group who have done really well together.”
Seniors Cameron Lacroix and Jessie Henson have started for Union Academy since they were freshmen. Junior Emma Brewer came into the mix the following season to form the nucleus of the back line. Coppin, who goes by “CC” started as a freshman last season in goal, helping lead the defense to 17 shutouts. The group was completed this season when freshman Mya Manivanh joined, adding another defensive stalwart to an already strong core.
“We work together really well because we are close friends, also,” Henson said. “And since we get along well it makes it easier to work together in a game.”
As well as the Cardinals have played defensively, offensively Union Academy’s 141 goals through May 12 is not only a school record, it also marked the fifth consecutive year the Cardinals have gone over the century mark.
Manivanh has been a big part of the scoring onslaught. She has 19 goals this season, including three during a 9-0 win over Elkin in the second round of the playoffs. Brewer has four goals and six assists. Lacroix and Henson have each added two goals and Lacroix has contributed three assists.
“We are devastating to other teams,” Manivanh said. “Because they are not expecting (offense) from a defense. But we also practice a lot on being conditioned. We do a lot of speed and agility skills.”
Each player understands the blending of their varied personalities and skills has been important in making the back line work. The veteran leadership Lacroix and Henson implore go perfectly with Brewer’s calm demeanor to keep the team relaxed. Although they are underclassmen, Manivanh and Coppin are outspoken and Coppin said she doesn’t mind shouting at the defense when the formation gets out of sorts.
“When some of us start talking, it makes me want to start talking and work harder,” Brewer said of her teammates’ personalities rubbing off on her. “And when I take a deep breath and relax, they also take a deep breath and relax.”
No matter what occurs in the postseason, the Cardinals already know their accomplishments will leave their stamp on the program. Union Academy reached No.1 in the MaxPreps.com state-wide 1A poll. They won their second outright conference championship in three years and have also reached at least the third round of the state playoffs for the third straight year.
“We have definitely brought a lot of attention to the program this year,” Lacroix said. “It’s definitely a good way for me to go out. We were co-conference champions last year, and the hard work has paid off for us this year by winning the conference title outright.”