It’s been a long time coming, but there are plenty of smiles now when the Enloe girls soccer team takes to the pitch.
The Eagles started the season in style, rolling through their early nonconference schedule with a 5-0-1 record.
And while the victories haven’t continued at that sizzling rate, the smiles have not abated much. Enloe has won just one game in the last nine matches, including a 0-7 start in Cap-8 Conference play as it entered spring break. But optimism is still high as the team has a 6-8-1 overall record and believes a spot in the N.C. High School Athletic Association state playoffs is still very much in reach.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of progress as far as the program goes,” head coach Brian Schnitzlein said. “We’ve got the talent to beat the teams outside of our conference, it’s just figuring out how to beat them in conference.”
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Enloe used to be a mainstay in the 4A playoffs and many years was a legitimate threat to claim the crown. The program has fallen on hard times, losing more than it has won every year since 2011, which was also the last time the Eagles made the state playoffs. Its last playoff win was in 2008, when the Eagles advanced to the third round.
The last four years have witnessed win totals of just four, two, three and three.
Which made the 5-0-1 start that included one-goal wins over Knightdale (2-1), Rolesville (1-0 and 3-2) and White Oak (2-1) such an eye-opener?
“I think just the amount of raw talent we have has improved from the past few years,” junior forward Gigi Cloney said. “And we are just now learning how to use that talent. It’s no longer untapped potential, we’re figuring out how to do something with it.”
Schnitzlein has been impressed by his young squad, whose roster boasts three freshmen, 10 sophomores, six juniors and four seniors.
“Our defensive shape, our defense has held up well this year,” he said. “And the players, just their belief in our system. We’ve put in a lot of work in the offseason. We are young and I think you’ll see good things from Enloe in the future.”
Goal scorers have emerged in Cloney, freshman Snigdha Sompalli, junior Jasmine Betts, sophomore Courtney Eash and senior Mackenzie Patton.
The Cap-8 hasn’t been kind. Six of the seven defeats have been shutouts. Enloe found the back of the net against Broughton, falling 2-1 on March 29.
“As far as conference, it has not,” senior keeper C.J. Garvey said of the team’s better fortunes. “But out of conference you see it. We have girls that want to come in here and train harder and do better and make Enloe that winning team it once was and will be soon.”
Are the playoffs a legitimate goal in 2017?
“Playoffs are truly possible,” Schnitzlein said. “We’ve just got to find a way to put together complete games.”
Said Cloney: “If we could do it, it would be amazing. Enloe hasn’t made it to the playoffs in years. To do that and to bring our team to that would be awesome.”