It seems to happen every time. You're undefeated; you've outscored your opponents by 29-0, and you're in first place without a worry in the world. But then the odds catch up with you, as is the case with the Laurel High School soccer team.
Last week in practice, goalkeeper Robbie Mamula, a freshman who was playing with poise, slid feet-first in an attempt to clear a loose ball near the goal. He injured his hip on the play and will not be able to play again this year.
"His leg was straight," said Coach Terry Parfitt, "and something had to give. It was his hip."
Said Mamula: "I jammed my right knee and I chipped my pelvic bone."
Teammate Tony Stellabuto said he didn't think Mamula was hurt at first. But when he found out how badly he was injured, Stellabuto said he thought to himself, "That's it for us."
Captain Jeff Bookhultz talked to Mamula that evening. "When he called that night and said he would be out for the season, I was scared," said Bookhultz. "This is my last year."
The injury could turn out to be crucial in Laurel's quest for a playoff appearance. The Spartans (5-0 through last weekend) will have to make do, and they have plenty of capable players at other positions.
"I honestly feel we can go undefeated," said Parfitt. "I'm sure somebody will score on us. The big thing is how we will react when somebody does."
"When our goalkeeper got hurt, it just fired us up to do better," said striker Ernie Scruggs.
Parfitt, whose team has yet to play the toughest part of its schedule, feels junior Jeff Soeken can adequately fill in for Mamula. In his first two games, Soeken recorded shutouts.
But if the Spartans keep up the scoring pace of their first five games, they could allow a goal or two per game and still go undefeated. The victories have been by 8-0, 3-0, 3-0, 10-0 and 5-0, and the goals have been distributed evenly: Scruggs has seven, midfielder Bobby Poole has five, midfielders Richard Stellabuto and Stuart Stross have four each and midfielder Bookhultz has three.
Scruggs, who scored nine goals as a freshman last year, is probably one of the fastest players in the county, and he is learning to play more under control. Poole is always around the net -- "goal hungry," Parfitt called him. And Bookhultz has contributed to the scoring, although Parfitt said, "I've got to hold him back because he's got to set up the strikers."
Parfitt said the players are enjoying the wide margins of victory, and it is perhaps changing the Spartans' style of play.
"You start scoring and you can't get enough," said Parfitt. "Laurel has never been known to score, and now they're scoring." He said last year the team had the talent but didn't use it well. This year, the players have developed their skills.
Laurel is a short-passing team that is "not real big, but we're not pushed around," said Parfitt. It is also a team that has relied primarily on 11 players but has had help at times from its bench, which is led by Stross.
"The biggest surprise is that the starters have developed ball skills," he said. "The fullbacks have done well. I thought we had one fullback that was a question mark." He was speaking of Scott Marcotte, who is doing "an excellent job. He's been a pleasant surprise."
One defenseman Parfitt is counting on is sweeper Junior Leugones, a junior. "He's the best I've seen in the league so far. He's the reason our trap has worked.