The storybook season for Mount Airy soccer continues in the Bears’ pursuit of a state championship. However, the Bears’ record of 23-1-1 signifies much more than just the win, loss, and tie total, but also the journey taken by the team this season.
23: Mount Airy defeated the state’s top-ranked 1A team, Pine Lake Preparatory, to record a school-record 23 wins in a single season. Win number 23 put the Bears in the West Regional final for only the second time ever.
1: A win in the regional final sends Mount Airy to the state championship for the first time ever. This coincides with coach Will Hurley’s mentality of “One game at a time,” that has led the Bears to this point.
1: Only one team has been able to defeat Mount Airy this season in 25 contests — Bishop McGuinness. The literal and figurative Villains in this fairy tale are the one obstacle standing between the Bears and a shot at greatness.
These two teams from the Northwest 1A Conference represent 50 percent of the field remaining in the 1A Bracket.
“It says a lot about the two programs,” Hurley said. “We’ve been at it all year, I don’t think there has been another team going at it like we have.”
Mount Airy has been buzzing over the Bears’ championship run, even holding a pep rally for the soccer team for the first time ever.
To truly understand the stakes of Tuesday’s match, we have to go back to the beginning.
The first chapter in this season’s storied rivalry between the Bears and Villains took place on a chilly September evening. Hot off their first-ever victory over Surry Central, Mount Airy welcomed the challenge of Bishop McGuinness at home.
A penalty kick from Robert Brown put the Bears up 1-0 before giving up two goals. An ensuing hat-trick from Austin Tumbarello lifted the hometown heroes over Bishop 4-2 to advance to 12-0.
The Bears hit the road for chapter two, travelling to Bishop McGuinness two weeks later. Much like the temperature, rain began to fall in Kernersville.
This time it was the Villains who struck first. Two early goals put the away team at its biggest disadvantage of the season. Mount Airy was held scoreless in the first half but managed to score first in the second half.
In a match featuring nine cards (8 yellow, 1 red), it was the Villains who emerged victorious 4-1.
Both teams finished conference play with a record of 5-1, only losing to the other. The team’s held a 10-man penalty shootout to determine the winner of the conference’s top seed. With only four soccer teams in the conference, only the conference champion received an automatic bid for the playoffs. The other would rely on a wildcard bid.
The shootout took place at a neutral location on October 26. After both Mount Airy and Bishop made their first three kicks, four consecutive Bears failed to make their kicks to lose the shootout.
When brackets were released, Bishop McGuinness (14-2-3) was given the West Region’s second seed. The Bears (19-1-1) settled for a 12-seed.
“We didn’t like our draw, but they’ve made the best of it,” Hurley said.
Following a 9-0 demolition of Alleghany at home, Mount Airy took to the road for the next three rounds.
The Bears faced the five, four, and one-seeds to get to the Regional Finals. The Bears won each match 1-0.
“Bishop’s got to be concerned,” players told Hurley. “We beat all these top teams on the road. They’ve got to be a little worried.”
Hurley aims to keep his players focused in what could be the biggest match in school history.
“I told them this may be the biggest crowd you’ve ever played for,” Hurley said. “They know what happens if we win, but right now that door is shut. You have to win this game to get to the next level.”
Hurley continued by saying the only way to beat Bishop is for the Bears to play their game, and not the Villains’.
“One game at time, that’s how we’ve played all season.” Hurley said. “Don’t get wrapped up in what the other team is doing. We can’t let them get in our head.”
Hurley took time to appreciate his team’s success but said the journey is far from over. With a combination of skill, hard work, and maybe a little bit of luck getting them this far, Hurley says his team’s belief in each other will carry them to their goal.
“They just don’t quit,” Hurley said. “They believe in each other and I am just so proud of them.”
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith