Playing just his second year of high school soccer, Narciso Alvarado has only heard about how his Central Cabarrus Vikings dwelled in the cellar of the South Piedmont Conference.
But the team has made a dramatic turnaround this year, tying for the conference lead through seven league games. Alvarado, a senior goalkeeper who posted six shutouts to begin the year, has been one of the main factors in Central's success.
The Vikings have their sights set on a conference championship and an appearance in the state playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Alvarado got his first taste of organized soccer playing in the Hispanic adult leagues in Concord. He had already established himself as a pretty good goalkeeper in that circuit.
Having missed out on opportunities to play his first two years at Central, Alvarado said, he didn't realize what he was missing - how much fun playing high school soccer could be.
So he made time for the sport.
"I wanted to play soccer," said Alvarado.
Central coach Mike Dye thought last year might be the Vikings' breakout season. But in an otherwise dissapointing campagin, Alvarado was a bright spot. Central finished with a 5-14-1 overall record and 2-11-1 in the conference.
"Last year was when he really came on," said Dye. "It was a struggle. We had a group of seniors I thought would step up, but it didn't pan out that way. Without him back (in goal), the scores would have been a lot worse. He kept the scores respectable."
Alvarado had more than 100 saves and five shutouts in 2010. It didn't help, though, that the Vikings were shut out six times themselves.
Alvarado said Central's improvement this year can be attributed to distributing the ball more on offense and better communication on defense. That has made Alvarado's job easier but he has also built himself a reputation for his quick reflexes against one-on-one opportunities.
Central's season-opening opponent, West Stanly, was the first to be shut down by Alvarado. The Vikings improved to 3-1 when they blanked China Grove Carson with Alvarado in goal.
In the next game, Alvarado allowed only one goal against defending conference champion Concord, but it was enough to hand the Vikings their only conference loss through seven league games. Alvarado and the Vikings didn't allow a goal in their next four games: victories over Jay M. Robinson, Hickory Ridge, A.L. Brown and Concord.
"We haven't played perfect defense," said Dye. "But the team is playing better overall, so he doesn't get the barrage of shots he faced last year."
Alvarado has made countless key stops, but one sticks out for the Central Cabarrus senior. Locked in a 0-0 tie in the first half against Robinson, Alvarado may have been at his best, stopping a one-on-one attempt with his leg. Central went on to win the game 2-0.
Through 11 games, Alvarado has 105 saves and surrendered just eight goals.
"I've improved on my one-on-ones, coming out of goal," said Alvarado. "My reflexes have improved. I've learned from the goals that have been scored on me."
Alvarado is hoping to attract attention from college scouts looking for a quick goalkeeper. Dye thinks he has the talent to do so.