Benefield: Middletown girls soccer celebrating hard-won NCS title
When a friend of Lamont Kucer’s saw the video, he couldn’t believe it.
It wasn’t that Kucer’s Middletown High girls soccer team had won the North Coast Section Division 1 title Saturday afternoon after pulling off an improbable run through the playoffs. It was that Kucer was seen, after the final whistle blew, bolting across the field in sheer delight.
“A guy I work with said, ‘I didn’t even know you could run,’” Kucer said. “Our kids were just going crazy.”
Junior midfielder Sophie Kucer, she of 51 goals on the season, broke down and cried.
“We weren’t supposed to do this,” Lamont Kucer said. “It was emotional for us.”
It’s hard to imagine a team having to travel a tougher road to a section title.
The Mustangs got the No. 5 seed, which immediately forced them to stare down the barrel of a vicious bracket. If the Mustangs wanted to win the thing, they would have to beat three teams — all on the road, all of which had beaten them earlier in season: No. 4 Roseland University Prep, top seed Fortuna and No. 3 Arcata.
For historical context, consider this: RUP beat Middletown 2-1 on Aug. 27, Fortuna beat the Mustangs 2-1 two days later and on Sept. 7, Arcata downed them 4-0.
Lamont Kucer said he never second-guessed his decision to load his preseason with tough foes — foes good enough to hand the Mustangs their only losses of the season.
“I would rather know what they look like and take a loss,” he said. “I don’t think it hurts you in the seeding too much as long as you beat who you are supposed to beat.”
Besides, getting a taste of what Fortuna and Arcata bring early in the season helped the Mustangs prepare late — when it mattered.
“You have to know what is coming later on,” Lamont Kucer said.
But did those early losses and a No. 5 seed in the playoffs sow doubt? Maybe in everyone but the Mustangs themselves.
“I definitely expected to have a better seed. I definitely thought we would have a home game,” Sophie Kucer said. “But we played like we had nothing to lose. We played like we thought it was going to be our last game.”
Getting denied a home playoff game was huge. The Mustangs have a thing about their field. It’s natural grass with the nasty crown and rugged surface that only a Mustang could love.
So they took their disgruntlement out on everyone they faced. Still, they had an uphill climb, not all of which was on the soccer field.
Their starting goalkeeper, junior Leslie Chairez, was lost to injury about four weeks ago. Lamont Kucer was not planning for that.
But up stepped Emily Maccario, a second-string forward who hadn’t played goalkeeper since the sixth grade.
“She’s got good size, she’s tall, long arms, and it was, ‘Well, you know what? Let’s try to train her,’” Lamont Kucer remembers thinking.
Maccario, for her part, remembers thinking this: “I was like the backup backup. I’m the tallest one on the team, so they threw me in there.”