For most of the last decade, the Lake Norman area has produced some of the best teams in the state.
In fact, Lake Norman and North Mecklenburg's boys' soccer teams have each appeared in two of the last five state championships. The Wildcats won 3A titles in both 2006 and 2007 while North Meck lost in the championship game those same years.
Last season, for the first time Lake Norman and North Meck played in the same conference, the I-Meck, easily making it one of the best leagues in the state.
Several teams area were a factor in the playoffs in 2009 and should be again this season.
When the Vikings' season ended with a heartbreaking loss to T.C. Roberson in the third round of the 4A playoffs, North Meck (17-5-2, 10-2 in I-Meck) was one of the hottest teams in the state.
The Vikings had won 11 of their last 12 games, including the inaugural I-Meck title.
"We expect to be one of the best teams every year," said North Meck coach Paul Kikta. "That just comes with being a part of North Meck soccer."
Last season, the Vikings did it with a suffocating defense that only yielded 17 goals in 24 games. North Meck could again be tough to score on as all-region junior goalkeeper Jaron Bradley is back to lead the defense.
But All-state twins John and Will Krentz will be sorely missed in the back line.
North Meck will need more offense than it had last season, when they netted less than two goals per contest (36 goals in 24 games) and that production starts with senior forward Patrick Harrow.
The Vikings have won 105 games in the last six years and are always one of the top teams in the area.
Lake Norman has been just as good during that time, winning 107 games and two state titles in the last five seasons. Although the Wildcats took a step back in 2009, their first in class 4A, the they should be back in form this season.
Lake Norman has eight of its 11 starters back, headlined by a stifling defense that is led by all-region goalkeeper Nick Hensley and all-region defender, Marcus Lohrmann. Hensley, already committed to UNC Charlotte, allowed only 16 goals in 19 games last season and should be even better in 2010 with the entire backline also returning.
The Wildcats boast some offensive firepower with forward Morgan Myslinski, who moves up top from the midfield, where he scored a team-best 12 goals last year.
Myslinski should benefit from the presence of freshman Austin Stevens, who will start as a first-year player. Stevens, a highly-touted club player, has the size and speed of a senior already.
Hopewell will try to work its way up the I-Meck ladder after struggling to get out of the middle of the pack last season, going 9-10-1 (4-8), and in the ME-CA 7 for most of the school's existence.
First-year head coach Robb Bolar, who has coached the girls' team for the past two seasons, is hoping they can work their way to the upper echelon of the league after taking over for Charlie Smith.
The Titans' will have to replace most of their offensive firepower, which came from one player in Adama Wakai, who is now at Virginia Tech. Even with Wakai, Hopewell produced only 39 goals, which will have to improve.
Hough High becomes the newest member of the I-Meck. While the Huskies will be fighting an uphill battle, they do have a coach with experience in the league.
David Smith, who moves from Vance, led his former team to an impressive 14-8 (6-6) mark with a team that overachieved.
He'll have a mix of former Hopewell and North Meck players to work with, which should give him a solid talent pool.
Former Hopewell midfielder, Santiago Pantino and former Lake Norman Charter's Nathaniel Goodwin have stood out in summer workouts, which have included 25 to 30 players. Former North Meck JV defenders Nathan Deering and Troy Armstrong will lead the defense.
The Huskies will have talent, but they will lack cohesion in their first season.