By VAN HOLLAND
Tarboro's soccer program has been successful during their 13 years under head skipper Leshaun Jenkins and this year came with a different script, but they made the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season.
This year's task was simpler than the previous ones, because Tarboro had to win just two conference matches to make the playoffs and earn the fourth seed in the East bracket in the NCHSAA 1-A state playoffs. They beat the only other Two Rivers Conference opponent, Riverside twice.
Those wins gave the Vikings the edge and earned them a playoff spot, which gave Jenkins a thrill to see his team's hard work pay off yet again.
Tarboro (5-5-2, 2-0) will host Gates County tonight at 7 p.m. at Indian Lake Sports Complex. The Red Barons have posted a 4-10-1 record and finished last in the Coastal 10 Conference. If Tarboro wins they could host the second round at home against the winner of fifth seed Spring Creek and Perquimans the 12th seed.
"It is a wonderful feeling to make our 13th straight trip to the playoffs," Jenkins said. "We have really worked hard over the past 13 years to build a program the right way to develop great student athletes."
Heading into conference action, Jenkins and his Vikings had almost a month off to prepare for their two conference matches. The long stretch off came from not being able to play due to weather and they were unable to reschedule matches due to conference scheduling conflicts with their opponents.
This was the first season that Tarboro was in 1-A and with just two teams in the conference, it made it rather frustrating for the Vikings. When they did finally get to play a conference match they were rusty in the beginning, but after getting that rust off, they started playing the way Jenkins knew they were capable of playing.
Junior Joey Lancaster put on a show for the fans when he scored three second half goals in 18 minutes in the opener against Riverside en route to a 3-1 win. Then Tarboro beat the Knights 6-3 two days later to win the conference.
Now the task at hand is advancing in the playoffs and to do that, Tarboro's defense is going to have to step it up a notch and play near perfect. They have the players to do that, because the back four on defense are seasoned veterans. Seniors, Joe Miller, Wesley Hart and Franklin Arias and junior Matt Parker are the crucial pieces to the puzzle if they want to advance. Those four veterans have plenty of experience in big-time matches, but they have to remember they have a freshman goalie, Jordan Williams, who hasn't played in a big game yet.
"In order to advance we will need to be disciplined in our system and our back line of defense needs to step up," Jenkins said. "I am proud of how we have played over the course of this half of our season."
Jenkins knows the main key to winning is going to be their communication and need to be able to play through adversity. Lancaster, along with Bobby Jones and David Guevara have to be ready to play through Jenkins' system and score some early goals. They have to look for their teammates so they can take good shot selections. They also have to follow their shots and play off rebounds.
"We must actively communicate to make sure we are on the same page," Jenkins said. "No matter what happens in the match we have to maintain our focus and composure."
Jenkins sees a lot of heart in his team. He said they have played with heart all season and have been able to do that even when playing from behind at times.
"We must do what we have all season and that's play with heart," Jenkins said. "We need to play together and play to win."