For a first-year program, the Hough soccer team is coming into the season with high expectations.
With the talent on the Huskies' roster, having inherited a large portion of North Mecklenburg's 4A state championship team, it's no wonder Hough is in the mix for an I-Meck title and even more.
"We have to defend our state title because half of us came here," said midfield Alison Stearns, one of six former Vikings who will wear Husky uniforms. "We don't have the whole team, but people are still expecting big things - for us to be the state championship winners."
Stearns is joined by goalkeeper Emily Rusk, Hannah Robinson, Alison Vest as well as sisters Lindsey and Morgan Byrne at Hough. Morgan Byrne will be out for the year, having torn her ACL in the offseason.
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"It's nice to have these girls that are so experienced, making that ultimate journey to a state championship," said Hough coach David Smith. "They've done a good job setting an example for the younger girls."
Smith added that the former Vikings' attitudes have been tremendous.
"There's been no resentment about having to leave and start something new here," he said.
The Huskies will also count on the services of Brandi Arey, who played at Hopewell last year, and Hayden Schober, who transferred from Lake Norman Charter, among others.
"We have a lot of talent," said Smith. "I think it's a good mix."
Rusk, who was the state championship game's most valuable player for the Vikings, agreed.
"It's a great group of girls out here; they're all fun to play with," she said. "I'm excited for this year."
The 17-year-old added that despite her new team's talent it's still too early to tell how well they Huskies will do.
"It's hard to be compared with our team from North last year because this is a whole new team," said Rusk, explaining how well the team performs this year will depend on how quickly its members can gel together.
"We're trying to get to know each other better and build team chemistry and hopefully that will reflect out on the field."
Stearns and both her old and new teammates are excited about the possibilities at Hough.
"At North we had years to build on, here we get to start a new thing," said the all-state selection. "We get to create new traditions for our team."
With a tough non-conference schedule, Hough hopes to get the kinks out as they head to conference play and face other talented I-Meck teams.
Lake Norman, which was 19-3-2 last season, will be one of the top teams to challenge Hough for a I-Meck title. The experienced Wildcats will be a tough team to beat, as they return nine starters from last year's state quarterfinalist team, including standout defender Sydney Foushee, all-state midfielder Allye Mertes and the defending I-Meck Player of the Year, forward Taylor Waters.
Despite losing talent, North Meck will also be in the mix in the I-Meck. The Vikings, coached by Neil Roberts, will return four starters, including defender Erin McNaulty.
Rusk and Stearns said it will be a bittersweet to play the Vikings later in the season.
"We've been at that school for so long and worn those North jerseys, so to have to play against them is going to be kind of sad," said Rusk.
Smith hopes his Huskies can contend for a conference title, make the playoffs and hopefully make a deep run.
"For the first year it might be a lot to do, but if everything comes together and everybody responds it's something we can achieve," he said.
"But it's not a sprint; we're more concerned about getting to our best form in May."
Regardless of how the inaugural season goes, Rusk and her teammates are excited about Hough's immediate future.
"Next year it'll be the same exact team, so we can hopefully do even better then," she said.