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The team shirts of the Hunt High varsity boys soccer team have a one-sentence instruction as a slogan: “Do It For The Culture.”
While it’s a culture bathed in 3-A Big East Conference titles — the Warriors have a 37-2-1 conference record and four straight league championships — that brand has been beaten around recently.
Hunt entered Monday’s 2017 Big East opener with Northern Nash as the loser of seven straight games and an uncharacteristic 4-7 overall record. In that gruesome stretch, the Warriors were outscored 31-5.
Would Monday’s 2017 Big East opener against Northern Nash represent a chance to send an opening volley at a vulnerable Hunt dynasty?
Depends on one’s takeaway.
Senior Brendan Nance did more than enough in the attacking third on this night, accounting for four goals and having a fifth disallowed on a controversial offsides call in the second half. Classmate Landon Gesell scored twice and had two assists, allowing Hunt to overcome a pair of defensive lapses and post an 8-2 victory in the Big East opener for both teams.
The Warriors, finally void of a losing streak that festered for 24 days, improved to 5-7. Northern Nash dropped to 4-2-1.
Playing for just the third time at home, Hunt won for the first time on its hilly terrain this year and for the 32nd straight time at home in conference play.
“It’s just a really good way to start conference,” Nance said. “We knew this is our home field and we haven’t won here yet this season. We wanted to come out, play good and get a good result. We were determined.”
Certainly, determination wasn’t an issue for Hunt in the opening minute of play. After pestering Northern Nash keeper Parker Dickens with a Mark Bogle shot just 35 seconds into play, Nance received a through ball from Gesell. He put it away in the upper-right corner past Dickens, and the Warriors were quickly out in front.
“I thought we definitely creative up top tonight,” Hunt head coach Eric Nguyen said. “We moved the ball pretty well, and I’m proud of the effort tonight.”
However, Northern Nash did find an equalizer in the 14th minute. As Nguyen, a defender by trade, watched too many unattended balls bounce in Hunt’s final third, he bellowed onto the field.
“Why is that bouncing?” he yelled.
His query soon had merit. Off a throw-in, Northern Nash’s Patrick Sutton ran onto a bouncing ball, made a move towards goal and took a shot unmarked on Hunt’s frame. Warriors sophomore keeper Ty Philpott had no answer for it, and the match was tied at 1.
“I thought we did a better job the second half of winning 50-50 balls,” Nguyen said. “But that just can’t happen going forward.”
As the match was well in hand for Hunt, the Warriors had a second mishap. Off a free kick in the 65th minute, Northern Nash’s Evan Sanford struck a free kick. What was in line to be a simple save for Philpott turned ghastly as Garrett White crashed towards the mouth of goal. He arrived at the same time as the ball, distracting Philpott and allowing the ball to bounce off his hands and into the net.
“It was a little bit of miscommunication,” Nguyen said. “Some guys maybe in positions they’re not used to being in. But we’ll work on it, we’ll fix it and we’ll be ready to go Wednesday.”
Conversely, the Knights had no answer for their Nance problem.
In the 25th minute, Nance gathered the ball on the right edge of the penalty area before blasting it along the ground inside the side panel. Once Bogle, a senior, turned on a defender inside the 18 and slammed it by Dickens, Nance secured a hat trick plus one. He ran onto the ball and finished on one bounce in the 34th and tacked on his fourth goal of the half in the 36th.
Gesell’s tally with 2:46 left in the half staked Hunt to a 6-1 halftime lead.
“It really means a lot to me, being on a team for four years, having few losses and few goals scored against me in the past three years,” Nance said. “It’s just the culture of Hunt to win and play good soccer and play hard.”
In the second half, the Warriors extended their lead on a finish by senior Jose Chavez in the 56th and Gesell’s second goal from Bogle in the 80th on a brilliant triangular sequence initiated by Nance.
As for Nance, he nearly had his fifth goal in the 60th on a service from Chavez. The ball deflected off of Dickens and Nance jammed it in, but the linesman had his flag up for offsides.
Nance, an official in his spare time with Wilson Parks and Rec and Wilson Youth Soccer Association, didn’t agree with it.
“Oh, it was baloney!” Nance said. “I was on the PK spot, and there were guys in front of me and I ran in. I don’t know. I was just too quick for the linesman.”
Hunt will quickly return to conference play Wednesday in hosting Rocky Mount.