After struggling early on this season, the North Mecklenburg soccer team is having another October to remember.
The Vikings turned a 2-5-1 start into a 11-6-3 mark (as of Oct. 22), having won nine of their last 13 games with a loss to Mooresville and two ties in that span.
This is nothing new for Coach Paul Kikta and his North Meck team.
In October, the Vikings seem to at their very best. The team is 40-2-1 in the last five years in the most pivotal month of the soccer season, going 7-1-1 this month.
What is the secret to the Vikings' success?
"Every year, we try to build and learn from our mistakes as we progress through our season," said Kikta. "A lot of our success is just finding the right chemistry and trusting each other. Every team is a new group, and sometimes it takes time to gel."
Kikta and company are again trusting in their defense, which has begun to dominate its opponents, allowing only nine goals in the last 11 games.
Their defensive ability has allowed North Meck to climb the I-Meck conference ladder. They sit in first place in the league after beating previously unbeaten Lake Norman 1-0 shutout earlier this month.
A major reason for their improvement has been senior Patrick Harrow's shift from forward back to central defender. Harrow, who will play at Appalachian State next year, played offense for the Vikings the last couple years. But the senior made an easy transition, as he was used to being on defense for his club team, the North Meck Soccer Club U-18 squad.
"A lot of times, the goal scorers and the offense get all the credit, but my motto has always been if the other team can't score, then they can't win," said Harrow.
Kikta shares that sentiment.
"My philosophy has always been that you have to be able to defend, first, especially against quality teams," he said. "Patrick really solidified our defense as the strength of our team. He is one of the betters players in the area, no matter where you line him up."
Harrow leads a veteran group that includes seniors Evan Clatterbuck, Andrew Holt and junior all-conference goalkeeper Jaron Bradley.
While Harrow and the defense have come into their own, the North Meck offense has struggled without proven experience and chemistry.
The Vikings have also struggled with injuries, as North Meck has only had their 11 starters play in one half against Charlotte Catholic during the past two months. As many as four starters, mostly offensive, have been out at a time.
"Goal scoring is something we have really struggled with on a consistent basis this year," said Kikta. "If we had a top goal-scorer on this team right now, we would probably have been in the top 10 (in the state) all season."
Kikta and the Vikings, which were in first place in the I-Meck going into this week, hope to find that offensive chemistry as conference play transitions into the playoffs in November.
But if they don't, they will have to depend on their defense.
"Our goal is to defend our conference title first," said Kikta. "If we can do that, then we get a No. 1 seed and play at home. Playing at home and not having to travel two or three hours on a bus every night is a big advantage."
Being able to stop other teams from scoring is also a major advantage for the Vikings. No matter who they match up against, North Meck likes their chances.
"We've put ourselves in very good position to win our conference and get a good playoff seeding," said Harrow. "I definitely trust our defense to be able play against anyone. Now, we just have to get the offense going at the right time."