FORTVILLE — A third consecutive Hoosier Heritage Conference championship wasn’t out of the question, but it sure seemed like a long shot given the uphill climb the Mt. Vernon boys soccer team faced this season.
Losing 10 players and nine starters from 2016 due to graduation, Marauders head coach Matt Mayhew needed everyone to play a role if they wanted to defend their title.
And just like the philosophy he instilled when he took over the program in 2015, Mayhew’s Marauders banded together as a team to achieve, earning the third-year head coach Hancock County Coach of the Year honors as voted upon by the coaches and Daily Reporter.
Mt. Vernon finished the 2017 campaign 10-7 and 6-1 in the HHC to clinch their second share of the league title in three years after claiming the championship outright at 7-0 in 2016.
The Marauders, led by seniors Timmy Clone and Ben Wallace — both returning starters — blazed out to a 7-0 start this year and were 6-0 in the conference before losing to league rival Pendleton Heights 2-1 on Sept. 21.
Injuries to Clone and newcomer Braxton Beaty, a senior, slowed the group midway through the season, but the Marauders pressed on to tie Greenfield-Central for first in the HHC.
Mayhew, who spent five years as an assistant at Hamilton Southeastern, was a varsity assistant for 10 years at Mt. Vernon before taking over the boys program. In three seasons, the Marauders have accumulated a 39-13-1 record with a Class 2A sectional title in 2015.
In 2016, Mayhew’s team reached the sectional finals and this year they, once again, lost to eventual repeat champion Greenfield-Central in the tournament. Yet, despite the postseason shortfall, the Marauders continue to progress and contend under Mayhew, who is directer at Sporting Indiana.
Recently, the Daily Reporter spoke with Mayhew about the season, the future and the HHC.
How pleased were you to see the team step up to fill the holes left over from graduation and with the injuries you sustained this season?
A: We had nine new positions, including Jenner (York) in goal, so I relied a lot on Timmy (Clone) and Ben (Wallace) to get the other guys up to speed. Drew (Heitman) and Logan (Angelopulos) had a lot of minutes as freshmen, but again, they were only sophomores coming in and had to mature a little bit.
So for us to start out the way we did at 7-0 was very exciting. We started off 4-0 in conference play with pretty much sophomore and juniors (due to some injuries), so it was really exciting to see that early growth of the youngsters. Overall, it was a successful season.
How much pride was there for this group to win a third straight HHC championship?
A: I think until the Pendleton (Heights) game, we were on a 17-game conference winning streak, which I think is the longest of any school in conference for victories. Granted, the previous two years, we had a lot of depth in there, but for our younger guys to follow Timmy and Ben there, and go through six games fairly solidly, that’s something to be said. They kind of bought into it, and they defended the shield for us.
How tough is it to play in the HHC?
A: Going into our conference there are teams that don’t necessarily finish with good records, but on any given night if you don’t play your game, they can get you. Nothing against Pendleton because they have a lot of talent, but they came to play that night and got up early on us. It’s hard to dig out of a hole. You’d love to turn around and play them for even another 10 minutes because we were starting to get a little bit of momentum back. It just wasn’t our night.
Though you were youthful, how positive is the experience gained this season for the future?
A: Again, I can’t say enough about what Timmy and Ben provide as leaders for us, and the other seniors as well. So that’s going to be my next task, finding the next leader to fill that void. We’re still very talented and I think a very talented group, but it’s how quick can somebody gather them together and keep that focus as a team?
Is seeing the program continue its winning tradition one of the more enjoyable aspects of the job?
A: That’s the fun part of coaching, trying to find that next group and watch the boys grow into young men. This senior group, I was very proud of them, knowing what graduated before them, they stepped up to play. Now, it’s just, who’s next?