CHARLOTTE – Longtime Myers Park girls’ soccer coach Bucky McCarley has a lot to glow about as he discusses his Mustang team that is putting together another stellar season.
The Mustangs are 16-0-1 on the season and once again a nationally ranked powerhouse. This season Maxpreps.com has them slated as the 34th best team in the nation while Topdrawersoccer.com has the Mustangs 10th in the country.
No matter where they fall, the on-field success has become commonplace. Under McCarley, the Mustangs have won or tied 94 of its past 106 games dating back to 2014, but it’s how this team has done it that has been most impressive to McCarley, who took over the Myers Park program in 2002.
“The way these girls play is what we set as the expectation every year and they have risen to that expectation in the exact same way as other recent senior classes and recent teams have,” he said. “Word gets out. This is what Myers Park women’s soccer means and these girls are doing a great job living up to that. They are carrying on a tradition and a legacy. This season they are not taking anything for granted and they’re taking advantage of the here and now in a really impressive way.
“I have alumni come back and watch us play and I can always tell them, ‘You would fit right in with these girls because of how they approach the game and how they do what they’re expected to do.’ That is the biggest compliment that I can give them.”
The Mustang players feel the sense of connectedness, too. It’s what drives them each day in practice and what keeps them sharp despite often blowing past their overmatched opponents.”
“Everyone trusts each other so well,” said junior forward Agatha Mitchem. “We are always talking and the passion is there, but it’s the trust that separates this team. We know as a defender we’re not going to get beat because we work so well together. If you get past me it’s OK because I know the next person will be there to pick it up.
“It’s the same thing with me and (junior forward) Ari (Maibodi) up front. This is our first year really playing together up front because I’ve played different positions. Coming into this year Bucky told me that he needed me to focus on the forward spot. We had to figure each other out, but we have that good connection now and that makes us click on offense. But it’s not just us. Even when we have a sub come on, we know that we’re capable of doing anything. We don’t drop off a bit because we can all make the right passes or make the right decision or take the big shot.”
That mentality has helped an offense that is averaging more than five goals per game despite having a bunch of new pieces to work with.
Mitchem is tied with freshman Caileen Almeida atop the Mustangs’ scoring list with 15 goals apiece and Maibodi is right there with 13 scores and seven assists.
Last year’s leading scorer, junior Amanda Stines, does not start but is fourth on the team with eight scores.
McCarley said Stines’ unselfishness is the perfect example of how this team works as one.
“You wouldn’t be able to pick her out because she works hard and she supports her teammates so well,” McCarley said. “That’s why our front line is so hard to deal with because you can’t pick one person out to slow down or to congest their space. I like to think we have a great front five with our center mid Olivia Hollidge, who doesn’t get a lot of attention, but is an all-conference and all-region type of player.
“The biggest problem we may have is that at times they are looking for each other too much. I need them to realize their job is to punish the ball in the back of the net when they get in the final third (of the field) and to not try to put three more passes together. At times the girls become almost too selfless because they trust each other so much. I need them in the final third to be selfish, but we have a lot of people who can get the job done.”
To his point, 14 Mustangs have scored multiple goals this season and 20 players have tallied at least one score. While the Mustang offense is piling up points at will, the defense is perhaps the stingiest group in the state.
Myers Park allowed single goals in the first two games of the season – a 2-1 win over Weddington and a 1-1 tie against Providence Day – but has allowed just one goal over their past 15 games.
The defense surrendered just four goals last year when the Mustangs were also nationally ranked, including one in a 1-0 overtime loss to West Forsyth in the fourth round of the playoffs, but this defense is a year more experienced and quite possibly even better than that unit.
It starts with senior goalkeeper Abby Britt, a Ferrum College recruit, who has been fantastic.
“She made a save against Hough that was like a season-defining save,” McCarley said. “It was brilliant. She may not look like it, but we’ve got a beast in the goal.”
The back five is also exceptionally good and experienced.
From right to left the back line features Haley Godwin, returning all-region selection Megan Frost, Morgan Smiley and Taylor Guzi with holding midfielder Weezie Targgart controlling the middle.
“We have a really good and really experienced back six,” McCarley said. “There are four seniors back there who have played for three and four years here, so there is a lot of experience and a lot of chemistry back there. And they understand it’s done collectively and it’s done together or we don’t do it at all.”
With a perfect blend of cohesion and talent, the Mustangs are once again poised to make a run in the playoffs.
Last year was one of their deepest runs, as they got one win away from the Final Four before falling to the eventual state champion West Forsyth. The Mustangs made the Final Four in 2014, but lost 2-1 in four overtimes to eventual state champion Hough.
But with everything clicking so well, the Mustangs believe that maybe this is the year they can break through and win the school’s first soccer championship.
They certainly have the talent and the drive to do so.
“Our team is so tight and we know without one of us the whole thing doesn’t work,” Maibodi said. “We need everyone every game and that’s what makes this so special. We don’t care about rankings and that kind of stuff, we’re focused on getting better every single day. I’ve never seen any team work as hard as we do in practice and that shows through in our games. It’s a mindset we’ve had from the beginning.
“We were close (to winning a title) last year, but this time we can’t just say we want to finish strong, we have to do it and I know we will. This team has had the same fuel from the beginning as we have now. We will have it through the last pass and the last 30 seconds of our final game. We all want the same thing this year and we’re going to go and get it.”