Entering the 2010 4A playoffs, the Lake Norman and North Mecklenburg teams find themselves atop the I-Meckstandings, in the top 15 and amongst a short list of favorites to challenge for a state championship.
North Meck is the top team in the I-Meck at 14-3-2 overall, 10-0-1 in the conference play, currently No. 5 in the state going into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Lake Norman is just behind the Vikings at 15-2-2 overall, 9-1-1 in the I-Meck, and No. 12 in the state.
"Playing the best teams definitely prepares you for the playoffs, which ultimately is what you want," said Lake Norman soccer coach Jon Mertes, who has tied and lost to North Meck this season.
"We have to worry about ourselves. If we play well, and do what we do best, good things will happen for us."
A lot of good things have happened for both teams in the past, but after having dominated their respective conferences, both North Meck and Lake Norman have hit a wall in the playoffs, failing to claim the ultimate prize.
Will this be the year that either the Vikings or Wildcats break through for a state championship? Today, both teams begin their quest to show that they are the best of the best.
"We have put ourselves in a great position," North Meck soccer coach Neil Roberts said. "But none of that matters if we don't finish strong and do the best we can from here."
After a brutal non-conference schedule that included three losses to three top 10 teams, North Meck has established itself among the top teams in the state, winning 11 of their last 12 games, with the only blemish coming in 1-1 tie with Porter Ridge.
The Vikings have been dominated on both sides of the field allowing only 10 goals all season, while scoring over three per game themselves.
Sophomore goalkeeper Emily Rusk has been nearly flawless allowing only two goals in her time in goal, with a lot of help from defenders Tara Zartman, Megan Sullivan and Lindsey Byrne.
Meanwhile, Emily Archer, Katherine Rusk, Allison Stearns and Morgan Byrne have led a balanced offensive attack that can take chances with a stout defense behind them.
The Vikings have all the talent to win against any team they may face. North Meck has been deep in the playoffs again and again. This time, they hope to take the next step and get a shot at a state title.
For most of the season, the Wildcats have pummeled their opponents averaging nearly five goals per game. Against the top tier of their schedule (North Meck, Catholic, Fort Mill), the Wildcats have struggled to score and get enough offensive opportunities.
As the postseason begins, Lake Norman will have to prove they are amongst the top teams in the state in every game.
Sophomore Taylor Waters and junior Jackie Weston will be big parts of the offense if it is successful.
Lake Norman has a wealth of talent at every position, but has yet to see it all come together at one time. Mertes and company are hoping that happens now when it matters the most.
Mallard Creek (12-7-1) and Hopewell (9-8) finished third and fourth, respectively, in the I-Meck giving both teams postseason berths. After having endured a brutal schedule, both teams can show how much they've learned and how good they can be outside the shadow of North Meck and Lake Norman.
Mallard Creek has an experienced coach in former Lake Norman skipper Dane Perry to help guide his team. Hopewell has an experienced team led by reigning conference player of the year, Katelyn Faucette.
Both teams are dangerous first round matchups for any team. If they get a first-round win on the road, what happens would be icing on the cake.