CHARLOTTE – Late-season runs are becoming the norm for the Myers Park soccer program under the direction of longtime coach Bucky McCarley. This fall, the girls team is following suit.
The Mustangs improved to 17-0-2 on May 13, defeating rival Ardrey Kell 2-0 to advance to the third round of the playoffs.
But judging from recent memory, that looked like just the beginning before the magic ran out in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Page in the third round on May 15.
McCarley started the run last spring, leading his always-good Mustang program to the cusp of their first title. Making their first-ever title game appearance, McCarley brought his unbeaten Mustangs only to lose 1-0 to Fuquay Varina, ending a perfect 21-0-1 start.
Then this fall, McCarley led the boys to the title game where they lost 4-1 to Green Hope.
And this season, McCarley and his girls picked up right where they left off.
A lot of that went to the defensive side of the ball which, after posting their 10th consecutive shutout in the win over Ardrey Kell, allowed just one goal over the course of their previous 13 games.
“We play for each other and truly sacrifice our bodies,” senior all-region defender Megan Frost said. “We’re there for one another and we have great communication, which has been a big part. We have all upperclassmen and two sophomores stepping in and playing with that mentality.”
McCarley said Frost was a big part of the defense, which played mostly with just three defenders back and focused more on their offensive attack.
“The back three and the two center holding mids that we play with are the reason our defense has been good, and Megan Frost is phenomenal,” McCarley said. “She’s been starting for four years back there and if you don’t have a girl like Megan Frost then you can’t play three in the back like we do. She does a fantastic job … She’s always cool, calm and collected. She makes it easy to play that kind of soccer because we’re so confident in the back line.”
But Frost isn’t the only contributor to a defense that allowed eight goals all season and just two since the middle of March.
Junior Morgan Smiley and senior Shelby Caldwell have made a seamless transition into the starting role replacing all-state defender Hailey Godwin.
But McCarley is sure to not get caught up on just his three players who start on defense – along with junior goalkeeper Charlotte Butler – because in essence it’s everyone’s job to contribute to the shutout.
“It’s an absolute norm of our program that everyone defends,” he said. “(Against Ardrey Kell) you have Agatha Mitchum, who’s playing attacking center mid, chase a girl down the last three minutes of the game forcing them to have a deep throw. She has to be exhausted. We ask all 11 to defend, and I think that’s why we’ve given up a reduced number of goals.”
With the defense holding opponents in check, it’s the offense’s job to put the Mustangs comfortably ahead.
In the win over Ardrey Kell, the Mustangs were up against a defense that had allowed just one goal in their last 10 games, but 20 minutes in, Myers Park was already up 2-0 after senior all-region Charlotte 49ers commit Ariana Maibodi scored on a rocket shot past the keeper and later off a header on a set piece.
“Once we get one we know we can get more,” Maibodi said. “It builds the excitement, it builds the momentum and we know that we can do it.”
Maibodi leads the team with 35 goals, but seniors Mitchem (15 goals and eight assists) and Amanda Stines (12 goals and team-high 11 assists) have teamed with sophomores Caileen Almeida and Charlotte Catholic transfer Caroline Pulliam, who each have 10 goals on the season, to form a very dynamic attack that is averaging 5.8 goals per game, a whole goal more than last season’s regional champion.
“The way we’re set up, we’re putting people forward and we’re committed to scoring goals,” McCarley said. “We’re also committed to getting a shutout, but we’re a bit more committed to attacking than we have been in the past and we scored a lot of goals last season.”
Frost said last season’s title game was the first time the Mustangs had ever trailed last season, but they proved they can come back this year.
“It’s definitely pushing us because last year we should have won that game and we know we should have,” she said. “It’s giving us the mindset of, ‘Everybody work together, give it blood sweat and tears and we’ll get there.’”
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, their luck ran out in the 1-0 loss to Page. Tatum Neff scored for the Pirates in the first half, and that was enough for a Page defense that’s now allowed just two goals over its previous 12 games.