Ask the three senior captains of the Mandeville boys soccer team what the squad’s strength is, and you get three different answers.
Goalie Spencer Hollander said Mandeville’s best feature is the defensive back line. Midfielder Taylor Morise said it’s the ability of the team to strike quickly on offense. Midfielder Sergio Madrid said it’s the team’s chemistry on and off the field.
Truth is, they’re all correct, Mandeville coach Aris Kyriakides said.
“It’s not a game of individuals,” Kyriakides said. “We like to be a family. We have a Christmas party at my house, or we watch a game over here or study film together. One or two games a week is not enough to get the kind of chemistry you need to win.”
And winning is exactly what the Skippers have been doing this soccer season. Through Jan. 17, they boast a 14-1-2 record (2-0-1 in Division I, District 4 play.) They are first in the LHSAA Division I unofficial power rankings and are ranked second in the U.S., according to Maxpreps.com.
The 800-pound gorilla in the room, of course, remains district rival St. Paul’s, which just happens to be the top-ranked team in the U.S., according to Maxpreps.com. The Wolves are the only team to defeat Mandeville this year (a 1-0 loss in the final minutes), though the Skippers hold the current edge in the state power rankings.
Mandeville knows the road to a state championship likely runs through St. Paul’s, as the Wolves have won three of the past five Division I titles.
Mandeville’s duo of scoring machine Devin Pathoumthong (22 goals) and fellow forward John Nicklas up top has been electric, and the defense of guys like Hollander, Alex Hollander, Adam Zulli, Perry Booth, and others has allowed only three goals in 17 games. And in the midfield, the Skippers are as good as well.
But the team isn’t letting the praise get to their heads at all.
“Someone posted something saying, ‘Hey look! We’re No. 1 or No. 2 in the country,” Spencer Hollander said. “And then, someone would just destroy them on social media. We know it’s there, the national ranking thing. But it means nothing really. We don’t play all these teams from every other state, so how can you judge? The thing that we look at is the state ranking. That’s what we want to be No. 1 in.”
Which brings things back to the rivalry with St. Paul’s. The Wolves finished first in the U.S. in last year’s Maxpreps.com poll, and they beat Mandeville 3-0 in a semifinal playoff game. Mandeville’s seniors have yet to beat St. Paul’s in a prep match since they began high school.
“Whenever we bring up St. Paul’s, (Kyriakides) reminds us we have to take it one game at a time,” Morise said. “And it’s true.”
The Skippers found that out the hard way Jan. 16 when they played to a 0-0 tie with district foe Northshore on a sloppy field. Mandeville also was playing without two season-long starters in the game: Zulli who was lost to injury, and midfielder Otis Smith, whose family had just moved from the area.
“We were a nervous wreck in that (game),” Morise said “It was just awful field conditions, and we played a bad game. We have to put it behind us and come into the next game and start off quickly.”
They have one more district foe, Hammond, before getting another shot against St. Paul’s on Jan. 26.
Despite the tie, Kyriakides saw promise in the Northshore match, saying his team played extremely well in the second half, and that he has players fully capable of stepping into full-time starting roles.
“Right now, we just have to focus on getting back to form. The way we were playing a month ago when we won our tournament,” Kyriakides said. “Everything was clicking. These two losses (Zulli and Smith) are big, but I try to help the team realize we can still do it. The playoffs are right here. We’re this close. We can’t change much now.”
Except beating St. Paul’s, of course.
“I know at least 10 guys on their team that I play every day (in club ball),” Hollander said. “Tying them or losing to them, it does get to you.
But I think it comes down to who wants it more. Whichever team gets a couple breaks here and there is the team that’s going to win it.”