Charleston Catholic coach Sam Fox heard it from the beginning of the season.
"Everybody told me there would be a dropoff, but I haven't seen that at all,'' said the Fighting Irish's second-year coach, who guided Catholic to its third straight Class AA-A state championship last year.
One of the main reasons Catholic, which lost its top goal scorer among three all-state players, has continued to play at a high level has been the players' willingness to move to different positions to make the team stronger.
That unselfishness has allowed the Irish to weather injuries and suspensions to finish the regular season No. 1 in Class AA-A state coaches association rankings and chase their fourth state championship in a row when the state tournament semifinals begin Friday at the YMCA Youth Soccer Complex in Beckley. (See Page 2B for pairings and schedule.)
Catholic (21-0-2) is one of three teams in the state regardless of class or gender to own an undefeated record and also packs a 53-match unbeaten streak.
"This year we've had some players step up and play positions they didn't want to play,'' said Fox. "I don't think we'd have the record we have if the guys didn't play positions they hadn't anticipated at the start of the season. It's been one of the key story lines of our team.''
The leadership started at the top with seniors Luke Smith and Tanner Whipkey willing to give up comfortable positions. Smith, who played center midfield last year, was moved to center back while Whipkey is now the stopper on defense.
In addition, senior William Scriptunas and freshman Joey Trupo have alternated between forward and outside midfield, where they have both flourished with 21 and 14 goals, respectively. Also, senior Domenic Cipollone has played right back or midfield at different times while his brother, freshman Anthony Cipollone, has manned every position except goalkeeper.
"I can't overemphasize how important that's been,'' said Fox. "It's allowed us to put other players in positions that the coaching staff thinks they're needed in.
"Without that we'd have a big hole somewhere on the field. We're fortunate the boys are out for the good of the team. The team from Day 1 has had the goal in mind to win a state championship and they'll do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.''