Panthers make slow and steady rise to top|Northside chemistry equates to winning

Published 9:03 pm Friday, October 2, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
YEATESVILLE — It was only four years ago that the fledgling Northside soccer program took to the field for its inaugural season. With no youth programs in town, the Panthers struggled with even the most basic aspects of the game in their debut as they finished 0-11. The team would have to wait a while before it removed that zero from the win column, as the Panthers had to wait two whole years before they got their first win (after their 0-11 season the team did not play the following year).
Hold the fast-forward button down for a minute and stop in Oct. 1 2009, and while the jerseys look the same, you will see a different team. The passes are more crisp, the footwork is more fundamental and the players exude confidence.
Aside from carrying more advanced skills to soccer field, the Panthers also bring an 8-2 (5-1) record with them, which has them in a tie for second place in the Four Rivers Conference.
Success has not come overnight for Northside head coach Billy Bunn, but the Panthers have shown progress every season. Two years after their 0-11 season, the Panthers pieced together a 5-11 record, which was followed by an 8-8 record last year.
As of Wednesday, Northside was tied for second with Manteo, and just a game behind Camden (7-0).
Bunn said the slow and steady rise of his team can be traced back to countless hours of practice his players have endured and their willingness to hone their craft.
“I give all the credit to these kids for coming out and working hard,” Bunn said. “They are a super group of kids, I couldn’t ask for a better group. They come out and they want to get better, and they are working hard to do that.”
Bunn said the biggest difference in this team from previous years is the leadership.
“I think having some experienced guys come back and show that they want to win, and show the leadership to the freshmen we have now has really made a difference,” Bunn said.
“That just makes it easy for me because the seniors are teaching the younger guys the way things are done and what they need to do to get better.”
Bunn said that seniors Gabe and Cecilio Cota, along with junior Tyler Woolard have provided strong leadership for the Panthers.
“Gabe, Cecilio and Tyler have been here for three years, and they just go out there and play hard,” Bunn said. “They make every practice, and I just couldn’t ask anything more from them.”
Cecilio is the team’s goalie, and boasts one of the strongest legs on the squad. The keeper is also a kicker on the football team and has made 50-yarders in practice, and in games has a long of 43 yards.
Bunn said Cecilio’s soccer savvy makes him on the best goalies around.
“I think without a doubt he is the best goalie in the conference,” Bunn said. “His instincts in the goal are so good, he has saved us so many times by just reacting the right way.”
While Cecilio is putting a stop to goals Woolard is scoring them, and is currently the Panthers’ leading scorer.
Closing in on Woolard for that title is Gabe, despite the fact that he is asked to play several positions and takes on various assignments.
“Gabe plays any position that I need him to play,” Bunn said. “Depending on who our opponent is, Gabe may play a defensive position or he could play forward. I would like him to play forward, but if we are playing a stronger offensive team then I ask him to step back and anchor the defense.”
Having talented players is always key ingredient to success, but Bunn said that the team’s chemistry also plays a big part in it.
“We take great pride in the fact that we don’t chew on each other off the field or on the field,” Bunn said. “We try to instill a sense of family with these guys. It’s very important when they are on the field, if they get down a goal or two, too not hang their heads. Their closeness on the field allows them to do that.”
The Panthers will count on that chemistry Monday when it hosts rival Southside at 6 p.m. Aside from potentially gaining a conference win, Bunn said what makes the rivalry game so much fun is the fight for bragging rights amongst players.
“It means a lot for us, the county and the players,” Bunn said. “Our kids know a lot of their kids, and after every game they are texting one another to see how they did. They keep in touch with out players, just like we keep in touch with theirs.”