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High school soccer: North was fighting, already had a win

North Rowan girls soccer

Coach: Mike Nicolosi (3rd year)

Cavaliers in the previous 5 years: 1-72

2019 record: 1-16 overall, 1-15 Yadkin Valley Conference (tied for 8th)

2020 record: 1-3

Senior: Kayla Swicegood

SPENCER — North Rowan soccer coach Mike Nicolosi is blessed with the gift of gab and tells his favorite story about his only senior — midfielder Kayla Swicegood.

Swicegood had a phobia about heading balls until the day that Nicolosi kicked one as high in the air as he could, and told Swicegood she was heading it no matter what. The ball eventually plummeted downward and struck Swicegood squarely. It hurt. It left a mark on her forehead.

“But she wasn’t afraid anymore,” Nicolosi said. “Not long after that, Kayla saves a goal by heading a shot over the cross bar. Then she scores a goal herself — on a header. That’s right, on a header. That’s why you coach.”

Nicolosi is a native of Rochester, N.Y. A “cool neighbor” taught him the game when he was 6 and he grew up with a soccer ball on his foot. He moved to Rowan County in the late 1990s. He’s been a YMCA youth coach and middle school coach. Now he’s a high school coach, guiding both North Rowan programs.

Nicolosi has one of the more challenging coaching assignments in Rowan County, but it’s one he loves. He has no chance to win championships, but he thrives on teaching the game.

North had a decent team in girls soccer in 2013, but the Cavaliers didn’t win a match between 2014 and 2018.

“My first year at North (2018) was a disaster, nothing but mercy rules, including a 19-0 game with Carson that people talked a lot about,” Nicolosi said. “We didn’t give our best, and Carson had 19 goals at the half. But we got better last year. We won a match, the first win for the program in years. We scored six goals last season after North had some years where they didn’t score at all.”

North didn’t have enough players to make it to the finish line the last two seasons. North has small numbers and people get hurt in soccer. Nicolosi recalls getting ready for one bus trip with just five players before administrators reluctantly brought the curtain down on the season.

Nicolosi said he had 33 girls sign up when he evaluated soccer interest back in the fall. He had three or four show up every day for conditioning workouts in January. When it was time for practice to begin in February, he had the minimum — 11 healthy bodies —  so the Cavaliers got the go-ahead from AD Mark Woody to field a team.

“We don’t have true soccer players, but we do have girls who are athletes and who are interested in playing the game and learning the game,” Nicolosi said. “We’d gotten better again this year. We were playing together as a team. We’ve got dedicated girls. We’ve got some real fighters. As long as they keep showing up and giving everything they have, I’ll keep showing up to coach them as hard as I can.”

Cavaliers were getting hurt again. North Rowan had nine girls who were able to play against Albemarle — and won.

“That kind of lit a spark,” Nicolosi said.

North played against South Stanly with eight girls and lost 7-3.

“We had 11 shots,” Nicolosi said. “Our goalie (Daphne Robinson) laid out parallel to the ground for one of the best saves you’ll ever see.”

Those are the sort of small victories that Nicolosi lives for.

Nine-goal losses to North Stanly and Uwharrie Charter followed before COVID-19 concerns interrupted the season, but Nicolosi liked the fight, liked the effort. No one quit.

“It was going to be another building year for us, but I hate things went the way that they did,” Nicolosi said. “I hate these girls didn’t get to have the season they worked for. But Kayla Swicegood will have some kind of Senior Night. She deserves a Senior Night.”

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