With the 2015 high school soccer regular season in the books, a handful of teams in the area now have their eyes set on making a run through the state playoffs.
It was another competitive year for the four programs in New Hanover County, but one team stood out most under first-year coach Greg Marinich. Coming off a 19-1-1 mark, the Ashley Screaming Eagles captured the Mideastern Conference title for the first time in four years after posting an 11-1-1 record in league play.
“We came up with some team objectives starting the year and the bottom line is with me being the new coach, I had some things I wanted to introduce,” Marinich said. “The big thing is the kids bought in and when that happens there can be some magic.”
Following an 18-game win streak to open the season, Ashley suffered its first setback nearly two weeks ago, but Marinich thinks the loss may have been beneficial for his guys to get them refocused heading into the 4A tournament.
“It was a recalibration following the loss,” Marinich added. “I think it came down to the fact that we were never in that position quite before and although we attempted to make it seem like the weight of being undefeated wasn’t heavy, it was getting heavy. I think that was a bit of a pressure release for us.”
The Screaming Eagles have outscored 21 opponents a combined 79-22 thanks to a number of key contributors, including seniors Josh Barnello, Josh Chapman and Espin Jennings-Gilbert. Junior striker Duenis Avila and sophomore midfielder Dominic Toone round out an impressive list of players Ashley can count on in the attack.
Its 22 goals allowed this season are the lowest of any Mideastern Conference team, with senior Zack Smith and keeper Ryan Keller keeping the back line in shape. Junior defender Gio Aviola has also emerged as a key member of the team at left back, while seniors Drew Walters and Evan Laverick give the Screaming Eagles more depth through the midfield.
“What’s comforting finishing the season and moving into the playoffs is that we’ve seen everything,” said Marinich. “We have experience, we’ve been down, we’ve been down a man, we’ve gone into overtime. We talk about fitness a lot and making sure our guys are battle tested so they can stay on the field late in games. We’ll be ready come next week.”
Ashley earned a two-seed in the 32-team 4A bracket, with a couple of home games to look forward to if they can take care of business once postseason play begins this week. Hoggard, Laney and New Hanover also qualify for the tournament and learned their draw on Monday.
Laney earned the two-seed out of the split 4A portion in conference following a result against South Brunswick to move up a spot in the division standings.
Coming off a deflating 4-1 setback to Ashley on Oct. 13, the Bucs are riding a five-game winning streak into the tournament, while New Hanover is playing some of its best soccer down the stretch, having grabbed a pair of wins of Ashley and Hoggard in consecutive games during the last 10 days. The Vikings look to retool after going 0-2-1 against Wilmington schools in the final two weeks of the season.
Senior Jared Robertson leads Hoggard with 15 goals on the year. Jack Kiernan has 22 tallies for New Hanover and Wesley Nelson reached the 20-goal plateau for Laney.
Round one to be played on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
4A tournament: No. 2 Ashley (19-1-1) vs. No. 31 D.H. Conley (9-8-2)
No. 8 Laney (15-3-3) vs. No. 25 Harnett Central (13-6-2)
No. 20 Hoggard (11-6-4) at No. 13 Southern Alamance (11-8-1)
No. 23 New Hanover (16-5-1) at No. 10 East Chapel Hill (13-4-3)
3A tournament: No. 32 West Brunswick (9-11) at No. 1 Hunt (21-0-1)
No. 8 Topsail (3-12-2) vs. No. 25 Southern Wayne (9-6-4)
2A tournament: No. 13 North Brunswick (12-7-2) vs. No. 20 Greene Central (13-8-1)