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Heading into the playoffs Wednesday, the Newton-Conover soccer team sees shades of 2007.
The Red Devils (20-2-1), who won the state championship that season, are experiencing a bounce-back 2011 campaign.
After finishing last year with an 8-14-1 record, coach Angelo Palozzi said the players re-dedicated themselves to the game.
â€śOur captains came up to me in the winter last year and wanted to get things going,â€ť Palozzi said. â€śThey got a lot of the kids together, started working, playing a lot and getting in the weight room.â€ť
Helping the Red Devils offensively this season is forward Chandler Johnson, who returns after a broken ankle in 2010.
Johnson has scored 34 of the teamâ€™s 93 goals on the season.
â€śI couldnâ€™t do it without our backs,â€ť Johnson said. â€śOur defense has been finding our midfieldsâ€™ feet. Through the midfield, we just play the ball over top and use our speed like we do. Thatâ€™s all we do. We just use the speed we have to score goals.â€ť
Defense has been another strong suit. Of their 20 wins this season, 12 have come via shutout.
â€śWeâ€™ve returned two starters on defense from last year,â€ť said goalkeeper Hunter Nestor. â€śThe other two players that came in, Iâ€™ve played defense in club soccer with before. Itâ€™s been a good year. Weâ€™ve all been playing together since freshman year. We just have this chemistry.â€ť
At first, it appeared Newton-Conoverâ€™s season wouldnâ€™t be as successful as itâ€™s been.
The Red Devils opened up the season with a huge victory against current fifth-ranked 3A team Hickory.
Following that win, N-C tied against East Lincoln, fell 6-1 to Shelby and 5-2 to St. Stephens during a span of eight games.
â€śIt wasnâ€™t uplifting playing those teams and losing that bad,â€ť said N-C defender Gabe Crider. â€śWe pulled together through it and helped each other out. It was definitely tough getting through the first part of the season. It put us down a little bit, but we got through it.â€ť
Since that time, the Red Devils have outscored their opponents 60-11, all of which came in conference games.
The teamâ€™s record during that 14-game stretch â€” 14-0.
â€śWe knew South Iredell and West Caldwell were going to be good,â€ť Nestor said. â€śI really didnâ€™t see us winning conference. Once we beat South Iredell, 3-0, and once we beat West Caldwell, I started seeing it. Weâ€™ve had this talent all year. We just had to put the pieces together to get there.â€ť
Now, N-C faces West Davidson in the first round of the playoffs at home on Wednesday.
â€śThey are a good, big, physical team,â€ť Palozzi said of West Davidson. â€śWe canâ€™t look to Saturdayâ€™s second round games. We have to focus on Wednesday night and leave everything out here.â€ťView more articles in: