When the Cuthbertson girls’ soccer season started, many considered the Cavaliers to be the third best team in their conference, which included 3A state runner-up, Weddington, and traditional power, Marvin Ridge.
With Cuthbertson losing 4-0 to Weddington on March 31, and 3-0 to Marvin Ridge two days later, those expectations appeared to be about right.
But the Cavaliers thought differently.
Over the next 13 games, spanning 53 days, Cuthbertson didn’t lose a game, outscoring their opponents 68-8.
The Cavaliers’ winning streak included, a 1-0 win over two-time defending NCISAA 3A state champion, Providence Day, a 3-0 victory over Marvin Ridge, and a 3-2 regular season win over Weddington.
“I often compare our conference to the Southeastern Conference in football, because it’s so competitive between rivals in the same county,” said Cuthbertson soccer coach, Jeff Paciolla.
The N.C. Coaches’ poll ranked Cuthbertson No. 3, Weddington No. 5, Marvin Ridge No. 11, and Sun Valley No. 13.
“Every week, you are going against one of the best teams in the state. You could finish third in the conference and still be No. 7 or 8 in the state,” Paciolla said.
Cuthbertson players say they use that thought as constant motivation.
“We definitely play with a chip on our shoulders, because people are always saying ‘Well, you have to beat Weddington or Marvin Ridge or Sun Valley,’” Cuthbertson senior co-captain, Emily Weisberg said. “But we also believe that we have established that now you have to be afraid of playing Cuthbertson, too. We already have a great tradition.”
That tradition was established largely under the guidance of former Cuthbertson soccer coach, Nelson Garner, whose Cavaliers’ teams won 99 games in five seasons, including the 2011, 2A state championship.
Paciolla, in his first year as the head coach after serving as an assistant under Garner for the last two seasons, has been eager to prove he can lead the Cuthbertson soccer team.
“There wasn’t a day from the minute they hired me in July 2014 that I didn’t think about keeping this team going the same way Coach Nelson had,” Paciolla said. “I wanted to come in and keep this team rolling, keep the momentum going. There took an enormous balance between not trying to change a lot, but still establishing my style.”
While winning has defined a Cuthbertson girls’ soccer program that averages 20 victories per season in its first six years, it was their only two regular season losses that seemed to be the turning point.
After losing to Weddington and Marvin Ridge, Paciolla says spring break, the next week, came at the perfect time.
“That was a rough week, but in a way we almost needed that to happen,” said Weisberg, an all-state selection. “When we came back from spring break, we were a different team.”
The Cuthbertson (20-3) season ultimately ended in the 3A state semifinals with a 4-2 loss to eventual state champion, A.C. Reynolds. But with 18 of the 20 varsity players coming back next year, including nine starters, they are already eager to get back to work.
“We had a great season, but I am probably one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet, and we only got as far as we did last year,” said Paciolla. “So, now my focus is what can we do to be better. Our goal is to win a state championship.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.