FORTVILLE — Before the season began, Mt. Vernon girls soccer coach Steve Williams called his Marauders the best team he’s ever seen assembled on paper.
After a 15-4 campaign, the Marauders not only met expectations, they left the paper fluttering in their wake toward a second straight Hoosier Heritage Conference title.
“This is by far the best team we’ve had, not on paper. It plain was,”Williams said.
The Marauders opened the season 11-0 this fall and after 19 matches they finished the with an astonishing 104 goals scored and only 26 goals allowed.
Since Williams took over the program in 2014, the team has made positive strides, posting a 10-8 record in 2014, going 12-7-1 in 2015 en route to the team’s first sectional title in 19 years and clinching an outright HHC title with a 14-4 record last fall.
Though Mt. Vernon fell short of its second sectional title in three years last month, it reached the sectional finals for a fourth consecutive year. Because of that accomplishment, Williams has been selected the 2017 All-Hancock County Coach of the Year.
“We tell them, do the best you can, and then after the game there will be no regrets,” Williams said. “Do everything you can.”
The Marauders did more, producing the county’s top two goal scorers with senior Morgan Scruggs registering 27 and senior Nicole Ratts adding 18. Senior Emma Langdon finished with 16 to give Mt. Vernon three players in the top five for scoring.
“We could score from a lot of different places with Nikki (Ratts), Mo (Scruggs), Lexi (Hardie) and Emma (Langdon). We had a number of kids we could push into that forward position,” Williams said. “Hands down we were scoring.”
On four occasions, the team reached double figures in goals scored and had five or more in 12 contests. More remarkable was how the Marauders achieved the feat without junior forward Cleo Mills, who was sidelined 16 games.
The 2016 All-Hancock County Player of the Year, Mills supplied 27 goals as a sophomore and promptly provided five in six matches after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Along with that hurdle, the Marauders, who lost several key players on defense heading into the season due to graduation, had to turn to their youth.
Earlier in the year when faced injury woes, the Marauders had a total of six freshmen on the field, but there was minimal disruption.
“The chemistry is 85 percent of everything. If the kids get along, they naturally play better,” Williams said. “If they’re friends, it’s invaluable to the team. It’s an intangible, but it’s really important.”
Hardie, Mills and Langdon were both high school teammates and offseason cohorts with FC Pride, which was essential in their camaraderie.
Junior Jaici Wright in goal with 85 saves in 1,134 minutes and 23 goals allowed was also a factor, along with Angelina Metcalf, who logged 320 minutes, 14 saves and six shutouts.
If the Marauders had any disappointments this season, Williams said, it came in their final HHC regular-season game against Pendleton Heights, who defeated Mt. Vernon on penalty kicks to clinched a share of the conference crown.
“It’s tough. It’s tougher to win a conference than a sectional most of the time because you have six other teams you have to beat,” Williams said. “I would have liked to have won it outright. This team was good enough to go undefeated, and we probably should have, but it’s hard. You have one bad night and one bad call can impact everything.”
Their loss in the sectional finals against 12th ranked East Central, 2-1, at home was difficult to absorb, but Williams and the team left nothing behind. East Central, who was unbeaten at the time, went on to lose in the regional finals to eventual Class 3A state runner-up Guerin Catholic.
“I don’t feel bad about that game because they were really good,” Williams said. “We played them hard.”
The expectation is the same for the team in 2018 with the return of Hardie (nine goals, 27 assists), Riley Hurst (11 goals), among others.
“This team, it was the best team, boys or girls, we ever had with 104 goals. We scored in every game we played,” Williams said. “I’ve never had that before.
“It will be a little bit different next year, but we’re still going to be very good. We were young in some areas, but I don’t see it as a rebuilding year. It’s more filling in a couple of holes.”