Panthers need to be at top of game to repeat soccer playoff run

By Robert Chalupny

The Mehlville High School varsity boys’ soccer program has been a dominant force in the region for many years as a result of consistent, quality leadership and a talented crop of soccer players who come into the program every year.

The Panthers have had their ups and downs this year, and with the 2016 regular season winding down, the postseason is on everyone’s mind.

Currently 8-6, they started the season strong, winning several games early, but hit a low point with a four-game losing streak. However, they have recently bounced back, losing only one of the last handful of games.

Head coach Tom Harper said the “roller-coaster ride” the team has been on this season is the result of some inexperience of the club. He stressed the importance of leadership among teammates, but believes the Panthers have learned from their mistakes and is pleased about the direction they are currently headed.

“This season we have a younger squad, less real-time experience and a lot of guys looking for someone other than me to show them the way,” he told the Call. “Young guys are still trying to find themselves within the game, and now we ask them to be men and lead a group of men. It’s a big assignment. We aren’t failing at it, but instead trying to learn from our mistakes and problem solve. Therein lies the roller-coaster ride we took.

“We’ve got talent, really dominant talent, but we are working on being leaders. These guys care and they grind it out every night. A few times we’ve gone out and it’s like capturing lightning in a bottle. We just keep doing the same thing and keep getting burned, but for the most part we’ve executed, played hard, accentuated our strengths and stuck to the game plan.”

Whether the Panthers can work their way through the competition and earn a chance to play in the final game of the year could go either way, according to Harper.

“To repeat a playoff run, we will need to be at the top of our game,” he said. “We’ve got a few health issues that will be resolved soon and that will allow some players to ease back to a more natural assignment. We are a deep team this year and every player will need to contribute for things to go our way.”

As for the success Mehlville has had so far this season, while not overly dominant, it is a positive indicator of the type of character this year’s team has.

“I can’t point to one guy. All season it’s been next man up and every time someone new steps in they shine,” Harper said. “These guys have answered every critic. We are still cinching some things up, but these guys have stuck together and the end goal is still out in front of them, but we have to take care of business day by day.”

Mehlville was set to face Fox Monday night ­— after the Call went to press.