SPC player of the year returns to lead Chargers

Being the defending South Piedmont Conference Player of the Year, midfielder Logan Long knows expectations are high for her and her Cox Mill High School soccer team.

The junior - who scored 18 goals and assisted 11 more last year on her way to also being named All-SPC and all-region - said she was surprised when she learned on a bus trip back to Cox Mill that she had received the conference's top player nod.

Getting the award as only a sophomore, Long said, made her nervous at first. Her focus was to live up to the accomplishment, but she no longer worries about the pressure.

"I am ready for it," said Long, explaining that she's embraced the added expectations that come with the honor.

"It made me excited and gave me a lot of confidence for this season."

The 16-year-old has stood out at left midfield during her time with the Chargers, with her stamina and intelligent style of play, said second-year Cox Mill soccer coach Susan Gehrke.

"She knows when to make runs. She knows where to put the ball and how to put it there," said Gehrke, adding that she often compares Long to the Energizer Bunny.

"She's one of those people that never, ever stops and never gives up. That's so refreshing."

Long describes her style on the field as more technical than physical. She has also been clutch for her Chargers, scoring key goals against rivals Northwest Cabarrus and Jay M. Robinson to allow the team to claim a share of the conference title (with the Bulldogs) last year.

With Long in the midfield, Gehrke said, her team is unstoppable. But Long has been forced to fill in at center back for injured defender Katie Fail, who has been sidelined by an ankle sprain, to start off the season.

Long doesn't mind shifting positions to help her team. Having grown up playing wide back, she said she's comfortable playing defense.

Her coach is thankful to have such an unselfish and dependable player as Long on her squad.

"She's a great utility player," said Gehrke. "We miss her when we don't have her out left, but she has the capability to play anywhere."

As much as Long helps with her play on the field, Gehrke added, she also stands out because of her leadership, her positive attitude and her hard work.

"She's so much more than just a skilled soccer player," said Gehrke. "She's an incredible role model in school and on the field."

Gehrke said Long leads by example. Even when Long plays on the left wing, she said, she's always one of the first to get back defensively.

"When her teammates see that, they know they have to get back, too," said Gehrke.

Long's experience and determination may come in handy this year for the Chargers, who will have to rely on many first-year varsity players after losing some key contributors to graduation.

Despite a slow 0-3 start against a challenging nonconference slate, Long is excited about her team's potential.

A big step for the Chargers will be to get healthy while also getting comfortable playing together.

"We have started to click," said Long. "We have some chemistry going."

Long has been impressed with sophomore Mackenzie Hayden in the back and by freshman Christine Rolfes, who's helped fill the gap left by now-departed holding midfielder Mollie Calloway. Defender Becca Ortiz and midfielder Lauren Rothermel have also stood out as freshmen.

That young core - combined with senior veterans like midfielder Kaylee Akers and forward Denay Hayden - is what Gehrke and the Chargers hope will allow them to compete for another SPC title.

"I have a lot of faith in these girls," Gehrke said. "I think that as long as we stay healthy that we should be able to repeat, if not be standalone champions, this year."

For that to happen, Long said, they will need to stay focused.

"We definitely need to be ready and passionate every game," she said.