TC Kevin Flynn never said it was a must win. Or did he?
"You don't want to get to a point when you don't believe you can win," said the co-coach of Centennial's girls soccer team. "We were getting close to that. It was very important that we won today. I think we were starting to doubt ourselves."
The Eagles' 2-0 victory over Howard Friday raised their record to 2-3-1. It's not a good record. It's even worse for a team that a year ago went 18-0 and won the state Class 3A-4A championship.
"I'm frustrated and disappointed," said Flynn, echoing the sentiment of his players. "We had something last year that we don't have this year. It's not personnel. It's attitude.
"We can be better than last year's team, but we don't seem to have the focus or the hunger. That's in games and in practice as well."
Gina Dinisio, a senior defender, said practices this year have been different from a year ago. And that's been a problem.
"We have to be more focused and it starts in practice," Dinisio said after Friday's victory. "We never have a good game after a bad practice. I think we fool around too much. Like they say, practice makes perfect. But it's starting to get better. We had a good practice yesterday [Thursday] and it showed today."
Co-coach Dave Greenberg said he and Flynn have to work harder to get the most out of their talented squad.
"We need to do a better job demanding more from the kids," Greenberg said. "I don't think it's just the kids' fault. We have to do a better job."
But the players know they are the ones who have to produce. For Michelle Clare, who led the team last year with 22 goals, it's a matter of "intensity and hunger, and that comes from the individual."
"Two years ago we lost the [state] semifinals and last year we really wanted it more," Clare said. "We won it last year and we think it's going to be handed to us this year and it's not.
"The intensity level was really high last year. We came on the field ready to take care of business. We did what we needed to do to win."
Lauren Molinaro, the county Player of the Year last year as a sophomore, said this year's team is "so unpredictable. Last year, you could count on us. We would get the job done. This year, you never know. Is today going to be an on day or an off day?
"But our biggest problem we need to overcome is shooting. Getting the ball in the net. It's rough. We haven't found someone that can consistently put it away."
Though their record isn't what they expected, the No. 9-ranked Eagles, who play host to Hammond tomorrow, have been playing tough opponents. Their three losses were to No. 2 C. Milton Wright (1-0), No. 3 McDonogh (1-0) and No. 8 Franklin (2-1). Hardly blowouts. But when you're Centennial, and when you were perfect a year ago, the pressure to excel is always there.
"We have more talent than we've shown," said Dinisio. "We should be playing better. We need to get consistent and play the whole game strong. There are too many other good teams that want to beat us."
Added Molinaro: "If we want it, we can definitely finish [the season] well. It's a question of if we want it bad enough. Right now, I don't know for sure. But I think we're starting to get a little more serious."
Greenberg said that the open playoff format, where all teams are invited, might have something to do with his team's lack of intensity. Even though the system was in place last season, he said last year's team had something to prove because it had lost in the semifinals the year before.
"The kids just haven't grasped how hard it was last year," Greenberg said. "You have to focus all the time."
Clare is strong enough to admit she hasn't been focused all the time. But her goal remains strong, as does her faith in her team.
"Our goal is to keep the state title," Clare said. "We've won it two of the last three years. If we really work hard together, I think we can do it."