The old cliché goes, there is no “I” in team. For the 2015 edition of Clinton Dark Horse soccer there may not be a more appropriate slogan. Through twenty-three games this season the Dark Horses have won twenty-two and tied once, remaining unbeaten while facing and beating the number one ranked team in the 1-A classification on three occasions. The only blemish on their record came early in the season in a 1-1 tie with Dixon. The Dark Horses currently hold the number two ranking in the North Carolina 2-A classification according to MaxPreps.com while the 16-4-1 Dixon Bulldogs come in at third in the online poll.
The Dark Horses have outscored opponents 116-14 with eighteen different players scoring at least one goal, and five players posting at least 15 goals. Head coach Brad Spell commented on his teams unselfishness saying, “we have five guys with at least 15 goals and two or three more with right at 10 goals. This is an unselfish team, they take as much pride in an assist as they do a goal and everyone has accepted their roles so willingly.” Through 23 games freshman Peter Darden and Junior Ivan Ponce share the goals scored lead with 18 each. Spell Carr (17), Ivan Palencia (17) and Andrew Warren (15) round out the top five in goals scored.
Senior Spell Carr has a team leading 16 assists to go with his 17 goals on the season and has taken an amazing 99 corner kicks for the Horses, many of which have resulted in spectacular goals. Carr’s knack as the front end of the Clinton set piece is uncanny, he consistently places his corner kicks in a spot that gives his teammates a good shot on goal.
On the other end of the field is stalwart goal keeper Gray Sutter who has made life miserable for many opponents. Sutter has faced 89 shots on goal this season, allowing only 14 scores with 11 shutouts in the process. Sutter has also done a tremendous job directing traffic along the back line and being the outlet man for many of Clinton’s fast breaks this season.
When asked what had made this team so successful this year, Clinton head coach Brad Spell replied, “last year we were sophomore heavy, very young, and these guys took their lumps and got pushed around a little bit. They committed in the off season to conditioning and weight training and came into the season in great shape. That has paid off as we have beaten a lot of those same teams that destroyed us last year.” Spell said he knew this team was special early on, “when we beat Richlands in The Battle at the Beach to go 3-0 I think the guys felt like they had a pretty good team. We had probably not beaten them in the previous ten games and it gave us a lot of confidence to take them down on a neutral field.”
Coach Spell alluded to what may have been the biggest component in the Dark Horses unbeaten run, adding, “everyone on the team is really committed to understanding out roles. We knew coming in that this could be an issue, we have four or five players that don’t get a lot of playing time that can play. They would be getting a lot of minutes on lots of other teams, but they have accepted their roles and have been very important to our success.”
The Dark Horses clinched the Four County Conference title with Monday’s 4-1 win over Trask, and become the first Clinton team to record 22 wins during the regular season. With the state playoffs looming just days away Clinton should get a very high seed which would afford them a home field advantage deep into the tournament.
“We still have to push these kids and help them realize that anyone can take you down in the playoffs. When you look at the rankings on MaxPreps.com there are still nine teams in the 2-A ranks with 1 loss or less. We are going to face a very good team early on. If you look at the East Central conference it looks like East Duplin or Croatan may be a wild card and you could meet them the first round. We have to be ready and on our game every night from here on out, but when we are playing our best we will be a tough team to beat”, added Coach Spell with regards to the upcoming playoffs.
With one game left on the regular season slate, a Wednesday night road game at rival Wallace-Rose Hill, the Dark Horses will not be tempted to look ahead to the playoffs. The team should have all their attention focused on the Bulldogs and the possibility of finishing off the regular season with their unbeaten record in tact. Spell concluded “We have a great group of kids, they are committed and have been very receptive to coaching. Players will listen to their coaches especially when they are having a season like we are, as a staff we try to talk to them about how you will react when you have adversity. We have been very fortunate this year to have never trailed in any game, but that could happen Wednesday at Wallace or in the playoffs, and how we react to that will determine how far we can travel on this journey.”