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‘Work in progress’

Lincolnton High rising senior Fransisco Velazquez and rising sophomore Graham Willis fight for possession during the Wolves’ preseason camp on Thursday.

Lincolnton High rising senior Fransisco Velazquez and rising sophomore Graham Willis fight for possession during the Wolves’ preseason camp on Thursday.

LHS soccer has questions entering season

Sports Editor
Like the prize at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jack, what can become of Lincolnton High’s boys soccer team this season is a mystery.
The Wolves, who open the season at North Lincoln on Aug. 18, enter their 2014 campaign with a high ceiling and expectations, but whether or not they’ll reach them is the question.
Leith, in his sixth year at the program’s helm, acknowledge’s his teams potential. But after losing most of its depth and defense from last year’s squad, that potential remains to be seen.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”
The Wolves went 15-4-2 last season, reached the third round of the NCHSAA state 2A playoffs and finished third in the ever-tough Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference.
That finish came a year after they won the old Southern Piedmont 1A/2A title and entered 2013 ranked 12th in a preseason poll.
Lincolnton isn’t ranked at all heading into a new season.
“We won’t be quite as strong as we’ve been in the past,” Leith said. “We’re going to have to work very hard to be that good.”
Part of that has to do with losing so much. Leith said the majority of his starting defense graduated in June, and along with it most of his back-ups on both sides of the ball.
The Wolves’ top player, Juan Abonza, also graduated, leaving them without what Leith called “an elite player.” But everyone currently in camp –– Leith has had as many as 48 total players –– can play.
“We don’t have a particular superstar, but we’ve got a lot of good players,” he said.
Returning to lead the offense is senior Jeffrey Perez, and senior Francisco Velazquez will head up the defense.
Both have been in the program since they were freshmen, and both are impact players, Leith said.
“It’s possible we could be a contender in the state if we can throw everything together right,” he said.
Lincolnton finished third in the SD-7 behind West Caldwell and league champion Newton-Conover, and Leith figures the Red Devils are again the team to beat. As for his own team, he sees second place a possibility. Or first. Or third. Or somewhere near the bottom.
“I wouldn’t put anything past us,” he said. “I think we’re solidly the number two favorite. We could be number one, but who knows where we could be.”
The Wolves got it together at the end of the 2013 season to make their state playoff run, which ended with a 2-1 loss at Lake Norman Charter –– ranked fourth in the preseason EurosportScoreboard.com poll –– in the third round.
They played all three playoff matches on the road.
“We definitely put it together at the end,” Leith said.
Leith hopes his young team can ride the end of last season into this year, and use the winning ways the program has come accustomed to to have a great season.
“The tradition of winning and the experience, and when it comes down to it,” he said, “it’s going to have to be putting it together against the best team in the conference, which will be Newton-Conover.”

Image courtesy of Jaclyn Anthony / Lincoln Times-News

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