By RYAN HERMAN
The farthest Lincolnton’s boys soccer team has advanced in the state playoffs is the fourth round.
Standing between the Wolves and another trip to the regional semifinals is an old nemesis in Lake Norman Charter.
Lincolnton (16-3-2) and the Knights (14-6-2) will meet in Huntersville tonight at 7 in a NCHSAA state 2A third round playoff match after they shared the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference the previous two years.
Lake Norman Charter, which opened in 2009, won all four matches against the Wolves in conference play. But tonight’s match isn’t about making up for past failures or lost time, but about reaching the ultimate goal of playing for a state title.
“It would mean a lot to us –– be a great accomplishment (to beat Lake Norman Charter) –– but we’re focused on winning and surviving and advancing and going on to the fourth round,” senior Juan Abonza said.
Lincolnton, which last reached the regional round of eight in 2007 and 2010, defeated a much taller team in Smoky Mountain 2-1 in the second round on Saturday. Lake Norman Charter has a similar makeup in terms of its size, but it’s a lot more skilled with the ball, Abonza said.
“They have a lot of size on us, but they’re also more skilled,” Abonza said. “We haven’t beat them, so there’s a first time for everything.”
In their previous trips to the fourth round, the Wolves had a superstar or two that carried the team. Not this year.
This season, the team has relied on each other, from the starters to the subs, to get the job done.
Lincolnton’s also played with a lot of heart, senior Victor Lopez said.
“We’ve got to give our best, and give our everything –– give a lot of heart,” Lopez said.
Tonight that heart and playing with a purpose will come into play as the Wolves face a team that has won or tied in 11 of its last 12 matches.
They know they’re in for a challenge, but are up for it with the winner advancing to face either Shelby or Ashe County in the regional semifinals on Saturday.
“This team’s different. I think they understand and they know that we’re not quite the superpower that we’ve been in the past,” Wolves coach Ian Leith said. “(The Knights) know that we don’t have any superstars, and they know that they’ve beat us in the past, and I think we can use that against them.”