South Charlotte

Panthers still depend on senior leaders

When it comes to fighting back, the Providence High boys' soccer team knows how to put the ball into the back of the net when it counts.

Despite losing 10 seniors from last year, the Panthers have beaten traditional powers South Mecklenburg and Myers Park and are ranked No. 2 in the Southwestern 4A conference.

"The season has been fantastic. I don't think many people expected us to be 12-4-1 at this point, 7-2 in conference," said senior goalie Ward Gavin.

The only conference loss so far for the Panthers, ranked No. 11 in the 4A state poll, has been against rival Ardrey Kell High School.

The second half, however, may present a challenges.

"So far, my highlight for the season has been our 1-0 win over Myers Park," said Gavin. "Not only did I have a fantastic game but also we had a lot of players step up when a few boys went down injured.

"I am really excited to play them again. We were missing some key players that game, but they were, too, which will only make the next match more exciting."

Coach Timothy Long's strategy for the second half of conference games is to keep improving.

"I'm not satisfied with what we've done," said Long. "The boys are playing well together and there is lots of confidence, but any time you're in a conference game, it's all about motivation."

The Panthers currently have nine seniors: Ryan Beckner, Garrett Blodgett, Andrew Bernard, Ben Burdon, Gavin, Brandon Kardos, Trevor Kent, D.J. Poe and Sam Wilmer.

Kent says this year the team has "really come together. The team chemistry is a lot better. It's easier to play well when everyone is working together and when there is team focus."

The new team focus appears to be a major factor behind the number of goals this season. One of the leading scorers for Providence has been forward Beckner, who has 17.

After an impressive start to the season, The Panthers are trying to keep momentum as they head into the final conference games and the playoffs.

"The season is off to the best start we've had at Providence in four-plus years, mostly because of the mentality we bring," said defender Blodgett.