Four years ago, Matthew Bennett arrived at Concord High to take over a JV program that was just struggling to win games and compete in the South Piedmont Conference.
A year later, Bennett took over the Spiders' varsity program and guided his team to a 6-13-2 mark in his rookie campaign.
In his third year as the helm of the varsity program, Concord, 7-2-2 (4-0-1 in the SPC), is not only competing at a higher level, but also contending for a conference title.
"We've totally turned this program around in the last three years," said Bennett. "Concord soccer is starting to be respected by other teams, the students, teachers, really everyone. We've made a lot of strides as a program."
When Bennett took over the varsity team in 2008, he made a decision to start with a young team made up of mostly sophomores. That team struggled to get victories, with only six that first season, but they've grown up a lot together in the process.
"The first year was a struggle for us," said Bennett. "But we got a lot of good experience. The players learned a lot and I learned a lot. We've been better for it, ever since then."
The Spiders saw immediate results last season, as Concord went 14-8-1 (9-4-1 in SPC play), which was good for third place in the conference.
Last year's team went on to win two playoff games on the road, beating Waddell and Statesville before losing in the third round of the 3A playoffs to eventual state champions Marvin Ridge, 2-0.
"Last year, we've proved a lot to ourselves that we could be a good team and compete with anyone," said Bennett. "This year, we expect to take our team to an even higher level."
Bennett and 14 seniors, most of whom are in their third year as key players on the varsity team, have already begun to do that this season and are in first place in the conference midway through the season.
The Spiders have key wins over traditional soccer powers Jay M. Robinson, Northwest Cabarrus and Hickory Ridge.
The Spiders are once again led by senior Osvaldo Arellano, who has a team-best eight goals and six assists already. But Arellano, an all-region performer who has 29 goals in the past two and a half seasons, doesn't have to do it alone as the Spiders have a wealth of senior experience.
"Most teams are really aware of Osvaldo, and where he is at all times," said Bennett. "I think that defensive (strategy) have opened a lot of things for other guys."
These other guys have been key starters for the last three seasons, including midfielders Edgar Murillo (six goals), Erik Herrera (four goals, five assists), Felix Cantos and Arellano's running mate up top, forward Christian Herrera. The offense has been strong all year, averaging nearly three goals per game.
While the offense gets a lot of the credit, the Concord defense has also been solid as senior, captain Erwin Bernal leads a stingy unit that has allowed just over a goal per contest. Seniors Ricky Diaz, Alejandro Rodriguez and goalkeeper, Nate Joseph have also been big in the back line.
"We have a lot of talent in our senior class, and they have all played together for a while now," said Bennett. "A lot of these seniors really play all year round together in high school and club soccer. They know how each other play, they know how to read each other on the field. It's a big advantage for our team."
The Spiders now hope to take the SPC title and to make a deep run in the playoffs. While Concord is on pace to do just that, this team is taking nothing for granted.
"It's been really great to have grown up as a program with these guys," said Bennett. "We want to finish strong."