Each year, the seniors on the Myers Park girls' soccer team design T-shirts. They can pick the colors, the design and whether it will represent a cause.
All coach Bucky McCarley asks is that he can design the top of the back.
One shirt this year is light pink with a darker pink ribbon on the front, representing breast cancer awareness. On the top of the back, McCarley put one word: "Gimper."
"A gimper is someone who always gives more effort than necessary or expected," said senior forward Mimi Thomas. "We haven't told everyone what it means, but that's our goal for the season."
The five Mustang seniors - Alexis Chandik, Thomas, Maggie Knight, Katie Carroll and Carly Hammack - are prepared to give all the effort it takes to make a run in this year's state tournament, their last chance to win Myers Park's first state championship.
McCarley has been coaching at Myers Park nine years. The Mustangs made it to the state semifinals twice in his first four but haven't been back since. Last year, Myers Park was the No. 2 seed from the Southwestern 4A in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A tournament but lost 2-1 in the second round in double overtime to East Forsyth, a team the Mustangs had beaten earlier in the season.
"It was our game to win, so to come away from a game like that when we know we could have gotten a different result was one of the hardest things about it," said Knight, a midfielder. "Last year we felt like we had a really good shot to make a run and it ended too soon for us."
The seniors brought that motivation into this season.
"We're more determined," said Chandik, a defender. "Knowing that we've had these chances and let them slip by with just dumb calls or a second of letting up on our pressure makes me really determined not to give up in any second of the game."
The five seniors are in their third year playing as a unit. Carroll, Knight and Hammack are four-year varsity players, and Chandik and Thomas were brought up to varsity their sophomore year. McCarley thinks of them as his five assistant coaches and expects them to lead the team in games and practices.
"If I'm the only one driving the team, we're only going to go so far," said McCarley.
Chandik, 18, is a "defensive stud," according to McCarley. She started in a lot of games last year but broke her leg during the summer club season and is working to get back to full speed.
Thomas, 18, started her two previous years on varsity at forward but has had to accept a supporting role this year. "Her ability to put the team before herself has been such a fantastic example," said McCarley.
Knight, 17, is known as "The Distributor" in the press box, but McCarley prefers to call her "Miss Efficient."
"She's never going to be the best athlete on the field, but she is arguably one of the best soccer minds on the field," he said. "Nobody is given more responsibility as far as tactics go."
Carroll, 18, and Hammack, 17, may be the most talented players on the team, said McCarley.
"Carly is fantastically athletic, but more important than that she's the single-hardest-working player that I think I've ever coached over a four-year span," he said.
Carroll is the best all-around player, but she's been forced to be a "nomad," according to McCarley, playing different positions all over the field. This year, he has her as an attacking center midfielder, where he hopes she can be most effective.
McCarley said several of the players could play in college, but as far as he knows they've decided not to. Instead of basing their teams around one top player, McCarley said, Myers Park tends to have solid all-around teams.
The coach believes Myers Park is one of the top 10 teams in the state but hasn't proven it yet. The Mustangs are ranked No. 13 in the March 27 EurosportScoreboard.com 4A poll.
The Mustangs have had two chances to beat higher-ranked teams this year. In the first game of the season, they lost to No. 12 Hough 2-1. On March 22, they lost to No. 5 Ardrey Kell 1-0.
"I think it really hit us when we lost to Ardrey Kell," said Hammack. "We were playing really well and then we lost."
McCarley said Ardrey Kell was a turning point in the season. The seniors understood they lost because they didn't maintain focus, he said. In their next game, they were down 1-0 in the first half against Providence but came back to win 2-1.
"When we lost to Ardrey Kell that was obviously frustrating," said Carroll. "Then the next game was against Providence, and it was understood that Ardrey Kell should not happen again."
The Mustangs have quality wins against Providence and a 3-0 road win against Ronald Reagan High, but McCarley called those "second-tier wins." He wants the team to win a game he can point to and show them they are one of the best teams in the state. He also wants the team to make a run to the state championship.
"We need to stop knocking on the door," said McCarley. "We need to break the door down."