Though separated in age by only one year, the older Jeremy and Cory Dennis got, the less likely it seemed they would play soccer on the same team. Club soccer, as it is known, typically divides age groups by a single year.
Now that the Dennises are on the same high school team, their goal production and leadership has helped Vance reach the state 4A playoffs for the third straight season. The Cougars opened at Concord Robinson on Wednesday.
Jeremy, now a junior, and Cory, a sophomore, each started playing youth recreational soccer when they were 4. In the early years, Cory was able to play with his older brother's teams.
Once each reached the age of 9, the Dennises began playing club soccer. They started with the Cabarrus Soccer Association and continued with the program when it merged in 2004 with another organization to form FC Carolina Alliance, headquartered in Cabarrus County.
That's when they started playing on separate teams, though during their middle school and high school years, Cory would get in a game here-and-there with Jeremy's club teams.
When Jeremy joined Vance's varsity team as its only freshman in 2006, the Cougars were coming off their first season in seven years in which they did not reach the state playoffs. With Jeremy's help, and that of a couple of senior players agreeing to switch positions for the benefit of the team, Vance turned around after a slow start and made the post-season.
Playing midfield, Jeremy was named to the all-ME-CA 6 4A (now ME-CA 7) conference team, and his goal in a first-round state playoff game gave Vance a chance against top-seeded Greensboro Grimsley. The Cougars dropped a 3-1 decision but realized they had picked up a player they would be able to count on for years.
The following year, Cory arrived at Vance. As a sophomore, Jeremy was named a team captain by coach David Smith, an honor rarely bestowed on an underclassman.
As a forward, Cory led the team in scoring, with 10 goals, and the Cougars reached the playoffs for a second straight season. Vance scored 30 goals during the season, and almost two-thirds of them came from the Dennises, as both were named all-conference.
“We didn't have many guys that could finish (score), other than Jeremy and Cory,” said Smith.
Recognizing that Jeremy may be a little quicker and stronger than Cory, Smith flip-flopped their positions this season. As a result, Jeremy (who is also ranked no. 1 in the Vance junior class), now playing forward, recorded a team-high 18 goals and 14 assists through the regular season. At midfield, Cory added seven goals and six assists.
Players such as the Dennises have become a rare commodity at Vance. Those that have such a strong soccer background and play year-round have decreased in numbers since the early part of the decade, Smith said.
“At club (soccer) we do a lot of training with technical and tactical skills,” said Jeremy. “We get specific training on things that we can incorporate in the game. We do a lot of that at high school practice but it's at a different level, I guess you could say.”
“We don't have a lot guys that play organized soccer,” Smith said. “(Jeremy and Cory) both play club. It's about their attitudes in practice. They come to play every day. It's something you can't coach or replace.”