by Cliff Mehrtens

HUNTERSVILLE – Sometimes the dominant team doesn’t win.

That happened to the Lake Norman Charter boys’ soccer team against Southwest Onslow in the N.C. 1A championship match Nov. 23 at N.C. State’s Dial Soccer Field in Raleigh. The Knights, despite having possession most of the game and firing several solid shots on net, were shut out 2-0.

It was the first appearance for both schools in the state championship. Lake Norman Charter finished 19-4-1.

“We dominated the game, possessed the ball much more and had more and better shots, but that doesn’t mean you win in soccer,” Lake Norman Charter coach Justin Valenti said. “We had opportunities.”

The difference was Southwest Onslow goalkeeper Nicholas Matics, who was selected as the match’s most valuable player. Matics made six saves, including three in quick succession as Lake Norman Charter applied pressure in the middle of the first half. Matics made a diving save with 29 minutes left to preserve a 1-0 lead.

He backstopped a defense that limited opponents to 13 goals in 18 games this season. The Stallions finished 14-2-2.

Paul Bishop put Southwest Onslow ahead 1-0 in the ninth minute as he won a challenge for the ball and then tucked it into the net after a poor clearing pass by Lake Norman Charter.

“We had fun after that,” Valenti said. “We dealt with the transition game well and did a good job of coming back. We gave ourselves chances and possessed the ball a good bit.”

But the Knights couldn’t slip any shots past Matics.

Lake Norman Charter increased the attack in the second half, and by Valenti’s estimate, had the ball 90 percent of the time. The Knights also had a 5-1 advantage in corner kicks.

“(Southwest Onslow) had maybe three or four shots and only one was on goal in the second half,” Valenti said.

The 1-0 lead stood until the 67th minute when Austin Tausch, Southwest Onslow’s leading scorer, crossed a ball that wound up deflecting off a Lake Norman defender and going into the net for a 2-0 advantage.

Lake Norman Charter, which had rallied from 1-0 deficits in the previous three playoff matches, couldn’t solve Matics despite having the ball in Southwest Onslow’s end most of the second half.

“We kind of said that whoever scored first would probably win,” Valenti said. “Even being behind 2-0 with eight minutes left, we still had good opportunities. He (Matics) made some good saves. They were smart defensively.”

Valenti said he and his players enjoyed the best season in school history.

“Really, win or lose, and of course I wanted to win, but I treated it like just another soccer game,” he said. “I felt going in we had the most talented players on the field. We had those opportunities but we couldn’t finish them. It was not a bad experience.”

The Knights’ standout season also wasn’t a rare performance. They’ve qualified for the state playoffs four straight seasons, building a deeper roster each season under Valenti.

In 2009, Lake Norman Charter was 11-8-3 and made its first state playoff appearance. The following season’s 4-9-6 mark still got the Knights into the playoffs and more importantly, a season of experience for eight sophomore starters.

In 2011, Lake Norman Charter was 16-4-2 and finished second in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference. This season, it won the conference with a 12-0-0 mark.

“Last year was really the first year we had a full group of seniors who’d played varsity,” Valenti said. “This year we had four levels of experience on varsity for the first time. It speaks about the program, not just one season. We want (success) to be sustainable. We’ve got six seniors who will graduate and four of them were starters. That will be some spots to fill, but we’ve got some talented players coming up.”