The Lake Norman girls' soccer team hasn't been challenged much this season, as the Wildcats started the season 11-0 (6-0 in I-Meck play).
The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 53-3 (through March 30), including an impressive 27-0 in conference play.
"I don't worry about this team staying focused or being motivated, we know the deal," said coach Jon Mertes, whose Wildcats defeated Hough 1-0 last week to move into sole possession of first-place in the I-Meck.
"Our conference is excellent and I feel we're one of the most underrated leagues in the state. I think that helps us to know we have to be ready every game."
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One of the "dangerous," teams in the I-Meck that Mertes talks about is Mallard Creek, which they will host Thursday at 6:30p.m.
The Mavericks, who finished third in the I-Meck and made the playoffs last year, are quietly playing good soccer again this season, starting the year at 8-1-3 (5-1). The Mavericks were tied for second place with Hough (through March 30).
Former Lake Norman coach Dane Perry knows the program well and will have his team ready to play.
"Mallard Creek is a very quality team that I think should be ranked," said Mertes. "Any team that takes them lightly will be in trouble."
While Lake Norman has been dominant most of the season, the Wildcats could be hampered by injuries.
Forward Kendall Fischlein, center midfielder Allye Mertes and defender Lizzie Graham have had nagging pain, while Kelsey Palmer is recovering from a concussion and Sydney Foushee is out for the season after tearing her ACL.
Lake Norman and Mertes are still loaded with talent and will depend on their experience to keep them at the top.
Junior center midfielder Taylor Waters, the team's top scorer, needs to help stabilize the midfield and keep pressure on the Mavericks while sophomore Jenna Weston has taken over the leadership role in the defense.
Sophomore goalkeeper Rachel Harrell has also been big, not allowing a goal in conference play heading into this week.
The Wildcats will need some of their younger players to step in and step up because of injuries.
The next few weeks will test Lake Norman's ability to deal with pressure and adversity and playing Mallard Creek will be one of their toughest challenges.
Mallard Creek has progressively worked their way into the top teams in the I-Meck as Perry has built his program from scratch.
The Mavericks hope they're ready to take the next step and challenge for an I-Meck title.
But to do so, they will have to go through Lake Norman, who they have never defeated.
Mallard Creek will need forward Emma De Neef to be on top of her game at forward, where opportunities to score have come few and far between against the Wildcats this year.
Meanwhile, all-region midfielder Kelsey Manning and standouts Sara Webber, Allie Gartland and Erin Schneider will hope to create good chances for themselves and their teammates with their speed, especially on the wings.
After going down 3-0 early to Lake Norman in their first meeting March 15, the Mavericks played the Wildcats even in the second half and will look to build off that effort.