Charlotte Catholic has come close to a state title for the last two years but now feels it has the right combination to win.
The Cougars lost three times early in the season but have rebounded for a 17-3 finish and another MEGA 7 boys' soccer championship.
After defeating Olympic 7-1 to wrap up an undefeated conference season, head coach Oscar Del Pino gave his players the rest of the week off. He wanted to get everyone healthy and said the main challenge now is keeping a mental edge after cruising through the conference and not playing a tightly contested game.
"We have been on recently," said Del Pino. "Early on, we were finding our motivation and getting the right people in place. We had the right players on the field, it was more getting everyone in the right spot," Del Pino said.
"The toughest part for us is staying focused and keeping sharp for the tough games we will be facing."
One reason Del Pino and the Cougars are confident is junior forward Roland Minogue.
Minogue, the conference player of the year last year with 23 goals, recorded a hat trick against Olympic and leads all Observer-area players with 34 goals.
"It's is nice to have a player like Roland. It is great because he has been so good, but also other teams focus on him so much that it makes the other player's jobs easier," Del Pino said.
"Despite his stats, which are incredible, we have always been a team first. Roland does a tremendous job putting the ball in the back of the net, but everyone is contributing."
Minogue said he feels the support of his teammates and credits them with his individual success. He said he has been fortunate to be the one scoring the goals, but his teammates look for him often.
The Cougars had to overcome the graduation of three players in the defensive backfield. Del Pino said they had the right players there but needed to find the right combination.
Now that everything is settled, Charlotte Catholic has been rolling.
"We had some ups and downs early in the year, and there was a time we were not playing all that well," Minogue said. "We came together after those first three losses and said we weren't going to lose any more, and we haven't."
The Cougars' signature win came when they knocked off Charlotte Country Day - which matched well with the Cougars on talent - early in the year, giving them confidence. The next win came the same week against defending state champions and then-No. 1-ranked Cardinal Gibbons, the team that knocked Catholic from the playoffs last year.
Being a team that advanced in the playoffs the last couple of years holds advantages for Minogue and the Cougars. They know that in elimination games, opponents will try anything to slow their attack, including double-teaming the best player on the field or trying to rough them up a little.
"It opens up another option if they have to double-team me," said Minogue. "They got me double-teamed in the playoffs last year and everyone else came through and stepped up."
Minogue plays center midfield for the Charlotte Soccer Academy club team. He says playing forward for Catholic has opened up his field vision and made him a better player.
He also volunteers as a coach for CSA and says he loves working with kids.
As a junior, Minogue wants to win the state title and build on that when he returns for his senior season next year. He said he is looking at several colleges that have shown interest but wants to find the best academic and athletic fit.
What he really wants, however, is a state title.
"We want to make it to the state finals and think we have a good shot after coming up just short the last two years," Minogue said. "Each team presents a difficult challenge for us, but Marvin Ridge is probably our toughest competition. If we play our game, we have proven we can beat anyone."