WILMINGTON – Athletes will tell you time and time again that the losses are more vivid when looking back than the positive results throughout one’s career.
For New Hanover soccer standout Declan Payne, the thought of dropping last year’s 4A East Regional match to cross-town rival Laney brings a cringe to his face each and every time it’s brought up. However, the lessons learned from the double overtime defeat that would have sent the Wildcats to its first-ever state championship appearance has given Payne and his New Hanover teammates fuel to make his final campaign for the Wildcats one to remember.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Payne. “Too be so close last year and not have it go our way was something that we definitely took with us into this season. We have some young guys this year and it’s important for me and the others who experienced that to help in every way possible to get us back there.”
Like many soccer players, Payne developed a love for the beautiful game early in his youth and the passion is evident each time he puts on the captain’s band while suiting up ahead of his next match. Mix in the fact his dad, John Payne, was a Wilmington Hammerheads professional player during his adolescence, the young man has pushed himself to become a high level talent. Payne spent most of the summer working hard to stay in shape, while training with UNCW players on campus.
Sitting in the locker room at Legion Stadium ahead of Tuesday’s contest with Coastal Christian, Payne went through his typical pre-game routine, joking around as one of his teammates held court at the dry erase board.
With a determined look in his eye, the center-midfielder took the field for warm ups fully aware that each time out is one he won’t be able to get back as a senior. Payne wants to make the most of his final high school season and the Wildcats are once again putting the pieces together to make a run come later this fall.
“[I] absolutely think in the back of my end that I only have a few more games to play here at Legion,” Payne added. “I’ve played here for all four years. Soccer is my passion. I try every time I step on the field to give it my all.”
There’s just one thing that he and New Hanover are missing, a chance to play for a state championship. With the ultimate goal still a ways away ahead of a tough conference schedule, Payne’s presence along with a set of upperclassmen garnering a similar mindset has the Wildcats excited for the challenge.
Click here to watch Payne’s interview from Tuesday night.