YORK -- Playing in a region that is arguably the best in the state, the York boys soccer team has a challenge ahead of it.
Twice this year, the Cougars will match up with Clover and Nation Ford, two programs under energetic first year head coaches, Fort Mill, ranked third in the state, and Northwestern, a juggernaut- the defending state champion and the top-ranked team in the state and the nation in many polls.
It's a challenge, however, that Head Coach Sean Coady thinks the team is ready to meet.
"I have a dedicated coaching staff that is bringing some personal attention to these players ... we've noticed an increase in the quality of play and dedication of the players," Coady said. "The region is tough but we're not complaining about it. It makes us better, too."
After missing the postseason last year, York has jumped out of the gate this season, winning the Cyclone Cup tournament in Chester, going 4-0 to open the year.
They have since gone 1-1, defeating Westminster Catawba 4-2 but dropping a match to Rock Hill 5-0.
With a 5-1 record, and an experienced leader in senior goalkeeper Craig Lowe, Coady is expecting the team to keep it's winning ways for a while.
"Craig lives and breathes soccer," Coady said about his team captain. "He's been our MVP the last two years. He does what players have to do to excel in this league."
Lowe has already signed to play collegiate soccer next year at King College in Bristol, Tenn., and said personally he wants to stay healthy and safe this season but he is concentrating on the team first.
"We've already built camaraderie like we've never had before. The chemistry is there," Lowe said. "We just have to play with consistency. We can take on any team if we're consistent, so I'm just trying to lead by example."
Lowe said the Cougars are working on possessing the ball offensively, and keeping the possession, while the defense is concentrating on man-marking, making sure attackers are not cutting to the goal.
Lowe has been playing in the goal since he was 10 years old, and, while he didn't like the position at first, he said he wouldn't trade it for any other area on the field, especially now, since he is going to college for it.
Coady said he thinks Lowe is a tremendous leader, one of the best York has ever had.
"He keeps things loose as the captain but on the field he is focused, and he expects the same from his team."
A new addition to the York team this season is a group of three brothers from Oregon, junior Chang Mong Vue, sophomore Kong Meng Vue, and freshman Zonchance Vue, who Coady described as making an immediate impact.
Chang is leading the Cougars in scoring so far this season, with seven goals including those scored in scrimmages.
"We're working really well together, developing chemistry," said Chang, who is an attacker on the team. "We're beginning to read each other pretty well but we're still adjusting."
He said he is looking forward to the chance to compete against some of the top region teams later this season.
"Every year, I hope to play better soccer," Coady said about his team. "If we play well enough, the wins will come along."