The University High soccer program is learning a valuable lesson: winning brings about confidence, which in turn, brings more winning.
The U-High boys and girls teams are among the top of their division — the girls (14-1-2) at No. 2 and the boys (17-1-2) at No. 3 in the latest power rankings, which is giving the Cubs a much-needed confidence boost heading into the final stretch of games before the playoffs start next month.
It’s been a snowball effect all season for the Cubs who look to hoist their first state championship trophy since 1998 when the girls program earn the school’s only title.
The boys have already survived unscathed matches with the rest of the Division III’s top four teams, including a 2-1 win against No. 1 St. Louis, which coach Chris Mitchell said gave them the biggest shot of confidence this season.
But as girls coach Mellissa Ramsey said, it isn’t as much about the momentum gained throughout the season, as it is the momentum kept heading into the playoffs.
“I just try to focus on improving and peaking at the right time and keeping the kids level-headed and reminding them that people can still beat us,” Ramsey said. “It doesn’t matter what we did in the past. We have to bring our ‘A’ game every time we walk on the field.”
Ramsey, the sister of Mitchell, said she tries to avoid discussing rankings or records with her team, but the fact is if the Cubs can win their remaining six regular-season games and make it out of the second round of the playoffs, they’ll own the program record for wins in a season.
To do that, Ramsey said her team will have to focus on being more creative offensively and keeping shape in the defensive third of the field.
“There’s still a couple more facets of the game where we want to get better to make us a more solid team,” Ramsey said. “Once we get those down, then we will start to be peaking in the playoffs.”
The boys will have to keep their momentum going into the playoffs as well, as Mitchell hopes to finally get over the last bump in the road to a state title.
In his 14 seasons at the helm of the Cubs, Mitchell has reached the quarterfinals every season with the exception of his first and has seven semifinals appearances under his belt, including two state runners-up finishes.
But things are coming together for U-High this season, particularly as senior centerback Ben Smith makes his return to the lineup after an injury sidelined him for the past few weeks.
“We are (comfortable in the level of play going into the back stretch of the season),” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of teams around this time of the year seem like they come up on a lot of injuries, and we have recently. The No. 1 thing for us to is to make sure we’re healthy.”
Similar to his sister, Mitchell has the potential to produce one of his best teams during his tenure at U-High. If the Cubs win out this season, they will tie the school record of 30 wins set in 2005.
“If that’s a byproduct of winning games — to have the school record — that’s awesome,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the year, to be able to look back, that would really be something special to say, ‘This year we won the most games in school history.’ ”