RALEIGH — Sanderson has had a storied history in high school boys soccer throughout the state and country.
The Spartans have won or shared an N.C. High School Athletic Association-record 11 state titles, including three in a row twice from 1977-79 and 1984-86.
The latter was part of a more than five-year span when Sanderson went unbeaten for 103 consecutive games, also a state record and a national record at the time.
This years team has an opportunity to add to that legacy as the Spartans face Ashevilles T.C. Roberson (26-0-2) in the NCHSAA 4A championship at 8 p.m. Saturday at N.C. States Dail Soccer Field.
Theyve won it 11 times, so its a pretty big deal, Sanderson captain and senior midfielder Ryan Turner said after a Thursday afternoon practice.
Head coach Todd Worley, standing a few feet away, interjected, We.
We have (won 11 state titles), Turner corrected himself, before continuing: To be a part of Sanderson soccer and knowing its history and how many great players and great teams have come through, to be seen as one of those teams its a great feeling; and to know that we have another chance to add another championship to that 11.
It has been 17 years since Sanderson has played for a state championship.
Most of the teams players werent yet born on that day in 1996, but Worley, who won two state titles (1982 and 1984) as a player at Sanderson, has tried to bridge the gap.
We like to link the past with the guys we have, he said. A lot of people are saying the last time we were in the state championship, they were 0 (years old), but weve always made sure they knew what Sanderson was.
Worley said he has shared with the team emails and text messages sent from former players and state champions in the past few days.
The accomplishment is also a big one for the 16-year head coach, who replaced Bob Catapano, the legendary coach who led the Spartans to those 11 titles and a 363-44-21 record in 20 years and was recently named one of the top 100 coaches in NCHSAA history.
I replaced inarguably the greatest coach whos every coached in North Carolina in soccer, and its taken us a long time, Worley said. I didnt know it would take us this long, but these guys have worked hard, as all the teams have. Weve come close, so for this team to actually get to the threshold of where were going is a big deal for us and its also connected some people from the past.
The one thing Ive been proud of through my career here, even though I have not won a state championship, is that we have tried to continue the tradition of Coach Catapano of putting a good soccer team out there.
Since Worley took over in 1997, the program has compiled a 301-103-17 record, but has never made it to the state finals.
This years team is 23-6-1, and entered the state tournament as a No. 7 seed. The Spartans upset two-time defending champion Green Hope 3-0 in the East regional final Tuesday to make the state finals, but Sanderson struggled to find its footing early on.
The beginning of the year we started off kind of rough, said junior goalkeeper Walker Lozaw. We were in a lot of close games. We didnt really know what kind of team we were, we didnt have an identity then. As soon as conference (play) rolled around, I dont know what happened, but we kind of stuck and formed into a team and ever since then if we usually play as a team, as one, we pull out a victory.
Worley said the team tried to build the toughest schedule possible to prepare for this moment.
During the regular season, Sanderson faced four of the eight teams that were still standing in the third round of the 4A tournament, as well as 3A state finalist Jacksonville.
The Spartans were 2-3-1 in those contests, but the team turned a corner once the playoffs arrived.
Senior striker Michael Clemmons said the key to this teams success has been heart, and always working and fighting, and never giving up.
Lozaw knows that cementing the 2013 teams place among the greats in Sanderson soccer history is going to take everything (the Spartans) have.
For Worley, its all about cherishing the moment.
We didnt talk about a state championship until really after we beat Green Hope. he said. For us its just been that theyve enjoyed playing with each other. They havent wanted that moment to go away. We have a lot of seniors whove enjoyed their careers here, and I think they have wanted to keep it going.