It’s one simple word that is changing the complexion of the Maiden women’s soccer program.
Last season, Maiden held a 5-12-2 overall record, were 2-12-1 in the Catawba Valley Athletic Conference and scored 18 goals for the entire season.
So far this season, the team nearly doubled its total victories from a year ago with a 9-5-1 record. They hold a 5-2-1 conference mark and have scored 26 goals.
Third-year coach Dennis Ly said the change is due to a couple of reasons.
“There is unity,” Ly said. “These girls get along real well, from our freshmen to our seniors. Last year, I had a lot of girls that liked to play soccer. This year, I have three freshmen that came in and have played soccer their whole lives. We are finally getting soccer players. You mix that in with girls that love to play soccer, and it is a great combination.”
The trio of freshmen — Katie Foster, Rachel Pritchard and Rachel Good — became a catalyst for their team in a number of ways. They have been playing soccer together since they were 3 years old.
“I think that because we’ve been playing with each other so long, we know where we are going to be,” Pritchard said. “We know what moves we can make, and where we need to put the ball to put the other person in scoring position.”
The unique relationship between the seniors and freshman on the team helped propel the team into on-field success.
“The seniors work really well with the freshmen and underclassmen,” Good said. “It is like having an extra coach on the field. We get along really well.”
Sam Ardrey, who plays defense along side Foster, said she feels comfortable having the freshman by her side on the field.
“It is so great to have someone with so much experience on the defense,” Ardrey said. “It is just unreal. I have been playing since I was 6. Even as long as I’ve been playing, I’ve learned so much from Katie. There is no end to what I can learn from her.”
Senior Nhoell Inthavong said the main reason for getting along so well has been a mutual appreciation for one another.
“Just because they are underclassmen, it doesn’t mean that we are better than them,” Inthavong said. “We treat them like they are in our grade. We don’t have senior group, and they have their freshmen group. We are all grouped together.”
Pritchard has become a secondary offensive threat the Lady Blue Devils needed. She has scored nine goals this season and leads the team in assists with 13.
Teaming up with Pritchard is senior Cinderella Yang, the team’s leading scorer with 16 goals. The two make a formidable offensive tandem.
“My leading scorer is a senior, but my leading assister is a freshman,” Ly said. “The freshman is giving the senior the ball, and my senior is putting it in the net. I also have a senior that is second in assists. It has all worked out.”
Aside from working on the practice field together, the players have made it a tradition to hang out in coach Ly’s office and eat together before games.
“We get to know each other a lot better than just saying ‘hi’ in the hallways,” Foster said. “When you are a freshman, you have different classes than seniors. You aren’t really together in school. So when we do things, like eat together, it brings us closer.”
The tight-knit bond that the team shares became their motto for when they step on the game and practice fields.
“When we get out of the huddle, we don’t say ‘team’ or ‘defense.’ We say ‘family,’” Ly said. “That is what we are. They are a bunch of young ladies, and I consider myself their big brother. They like doing stuff together off the field together. We have taken an ‘us against the world’ mentality, and it has all worked out.”
When Maiden was struggling last season, the reception for the women’s soccer team wasn’t positive.
“When soccer came up in a conversation, we’d be told we suck or that we were going to lose,” Inthavong said.
Now that the Lady Blue Devils are experiencing success, many people in the community are starting to take notice.
“This season has been great,” Foster said. “Maiden girl’s soccer hasn’t been here that long, but people are really starting to notice. I’ve had non-soccer people come up to me and ask me how the soccer team is doing. We just want to continue to do well this year.”