Expectations surrounding the East Lincoln girls' soccer team weren't high coming into the year.
Losing two college-bound players to graduation, coach Jason Dragoon and the Mustangs were bracing for a rebuilding year.
"Instead, we've extremely overachieved," he said.
Starting out the year at 0-5 against bigger schools and playing through some injuries, including that of senior captain Emily Lauterer, East Lincoln seemed to be geared for a down season.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Everybody wanted to prove that wrong," said junior midfielder Adrian Reavis. "We worked hard as a group."
The Mustangs, which start eight underclassmen, made a quick turnaround once in Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference play, going 12-0 in the conference to wrap up the regular season with a 13-8 record.
"Being able to go undefeated in conference was a tribute to how well we came together as a team," said senior goalkeeper Marni Krehnbrink.
The team didn't focus on wins and losses, said Dragoon, explaining they only focused on laying the groundwork for the future. Although unexpected, winning came along naturally.
"Character to me means a lot," he said. "I think that's been the big thing for this group."
East Lincoln was led by Reavis, who had a school-record 23 goals in the regular season, and Krehnbrink.
After scoring only two goals last season, Reavis credits her breakout season on the maturity and confidence that comes along with age. She added that Dragoon had to instill an attacking mentality in her to focus on going to frame more.
Reavis said leading the team in scoring has been special to her.
"It makes me feel accomplished," said Reavis. "I've had a big part in this team and I'm glad that was able to happen."
Reavis, who had nine game-winners, also assisted 12 goals for the year.
"She's accounted for over 85 percent of our offense," said Dragoon. "Without Adrian we probably win but two games."
Although she wasn't asked to be a leader, Reavis has also taken more control of the offense. On the defensive end, Krehnbrink has had that duty.
The goalkeeper made it easier to develop a young back line, coordinating and encouraging the defense from her post.
"She's a leader in the back," Reavis said. "She'll definitely tell you where you need to go and correct you if you make a mistake."
Krehnbrink is a skillful player, having the ability to come out of her line and win balls in the air.
"You're not going to find too many 2A goalkeepers that can do what she does," said Dragoon, explaining that goes beyond her play. "She's pretty much held us together."
Krehnbrink, who plans to study sports psychology next year at UNC Chapel Hill, credits her teammates with the success she's had.
"It didn't come down to me a lot," she said. "We didn't let up many shots on goal - that shows we work well as a team and got our attack going."
The Mustangs outscored their opponents 61-37 in the regular season. Only seven of those goals against came to conference teams.
Chemistry might have played a large role in the team's improvement. The players have had a lot of bonding activities - including a game night, a breakfast the morning after prom and even a beach trip.
Dragoon credits his squad's motivation for their turnaround..
"It's nice when you have a group that you don't have to yell and scream to," he said. "You don't have to worry about effort because it's all there. All I have to do is fix and adjust and show. That rarely happens. You usually have to kick people in the butt to get them going."
East Lincoln earned a first-round bye in the 2A state playoffs. The Mustangs were slated to host East Davidson Saturday in second-round play.
Dragoon said he's proud of everything his team has accomplished and hopes the Mustangs can have some postseason success.
"Every game we win is icing on the cake," he said.
Would you like to see an athlete featured in Lake Norman News? Email Sergio Tovar at email@example.com.