The Myers Park soccer team expects to be playing for a state championship this November for the third time in the last four years.
The Mustangs have gone 66-5-3 in the last three seasons, including a 2008 state championship and a runner-up finish in 2010 (a 2-0 loss to Jordan High) and three straight Southwestern 4A conference titles.
But coach Bucky McCarley knows expectations and past performances don't win games.
"I ignore, avoid and detest the idea of hype in any way," said McCarley. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that people think we are a good soccer team. But we can only accomplish what is front of us, today, whether it's a practice session or regular-season game. I always stress and make a big deal of the here and now.
"We've got to focus on every step of the process, from game one to the end of the season."
That process begins with one of the best offenses in the state, which produced 137 goals in 2010, an average of more than five per game. The Mustang offense gets five of its six starting forwards and midfielders back, with Erick Suarez (34 goals, 15 assists) leading a talented group. Suarez is joined up front by Trent Carriker, who returns after a season-ending knee injury in the second round of the playoffs.
Diego Suarez, Erick's twin brother, and Hussein Ali, both all-region performers, are back as outside midfielders to keep defenses honest.
While scorers are plentiful, senior center midfielder Woody Houck, whom McCarley credits with organizing the offense, is key. Houck's distribution of the ball and control of tempo make a big difference.
Houck will be joined in the middle by senior David Swaim, who replaces graduate Cameron Davis.
"We all know that we had another great season last year and we have a great team coming," said Houck. "But we feel like we have a lot to prove. We want to win a state championship. The way last year ended gives us a lot of motivation."
Defense is a question for Myers Park. Defenders Jack Barnett, Thomas Brafford, Grant Carney and Davis Carter have graduated, along with goalkeeper Josh Brown. The five largely were responsible for Myers Park's success, recording 15 shutouts and allowing only 14 goals in 27 games.
That group won't be easy to replace, but McCarley said he has faith in the new wave of defenders, including senior Noah Williams, who saw some time in the back last year.
"Replacing our whole back four and goalkeeper is a huge challenge for this team," said McCarley. "But I think we will be solid back there; we just have to get these new guys experience in big-game situations."
The big games begin this month, when Myers Park opens with 3A power Weddington, Charlotte Latin and 4A state semifinalist Hough the first week.
"There's no question that our success in the last four years has created an expectation of getting to the state finals," McCarley said. "I know this team will have a certain amount of arrogance that they can do the same thing. But this is a new year, with a whole new set of challenges, and I think we are excited about the challenge getting back where we want to be."
Area players to watch
Erick Suarez, Myers Park: All-state forward had 34 goals, 15 assists.
Diego Suarez, Myers Park: The other half of the Suarez twins had 12 goals, 10 assists.
Hussein Ali, Myers Park: Pure speed on the outside gives Mustangs another elite weapon on offense.
Roland Minogue, Charlotte Catholic: All-state forward as just a sophomore last year.
Zhuvonte Wilson, Ardrey Kell: Impressive as a freshman, "Zee" will be a factor again as a sophomore.
James Pyle, Ardrey Kell: Like Wilson, Pyle was rock solid as a freshman; he gives the Knights a chance every game he's in goal.
Austin Yearwood, South Mecklenburg: Best defender in the SW4A, according to McCarley.
Brandon Jordi, Charlotte Latin: Multitalented senior has been hyped since he arrived at Latin, now looking to shine as leader of Hawks team.
Brandon Kardos, Providence: Major part of Panthers defense, gave teams fits all year.
Garrett Blodgett, Providence: Also a big part of one of the state's best defenses.