Mardela’s boys soccer team came just a game away from reaching the state finals last season, but the year in total was by no means a disappointment.
The Warriors finished with an 8-4 record in 2013 and then head coach Scott Malone led a group of youngsters all the way to the MPSSAA state semifinals against North Carroll. The eventual 1A state champions thumped Mardela 3-0 and sent them home with a loss.
Mardela lost just one player from that squad, a senior who graduated, but also parted ways with Coach Malone. Replacing him this year is Bill Taylor, who watched this team grow from beginning to end as a Bayside Conference referee last season.
“I think that they were definitely one of the most talented teams,” Taylor said. “They were a hard-working group and they had an awesome season last year.”
This season, Mardela is restocked and reloaded and ready to get back to states. Four senior captains in Will and Shawn Pope, Mike Momme and goalkeeper Austin Gray will lead by example on the field, while Taylor takes care of the X’s and O’s on the sidelines and in practice.
The new coach, Taylor, is a 22-year veteran of the Army and is no stranger to the game of soccer.
Although this is his first head coaching gig in the Bayside conference, Taylor played in high school at Wicomico from 1978 to 1982 before coaching the All-Army squad for eight years. He even spent some time as an assistant coach at Wi-Hi.
While in the Army, Taylor’s first duty station was in Germany, and it was there where he got his first taste of a European style of soccer, one that is more based around possession.
Taylor plans to implement that system with the Warriors in his first season.
“We want to play a possession and direct style of soccer as opposed to just putting the ball down the field,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to maintain possession and keep the ball away from pressure and then attack when we have opportunities.”
Taylor has also put more responsibility on his seniors and captains. One of those responsibilities is preparing the players prior to practice and being ready by the time he gets there.
By Taylor’s ruling, if the players aren’t there five minutes early, they’re wrong.
“That’s senior leadership — they know that they have to be ready by the time coaches get on the field,” Taylor said. “They got a taste of winning last year and being successful, and that thirst for more has carried over and it’s worked out well; it’s motivated them.”
The new scorer
The second new face on the team this year is junior forward Cole Lambrose, who transferred from Salisbury Christian. Lambrose’s play in the preseason and in practice thus far has earned him a very prominent role on the Warriors’ team.
“Cole is our new goal-scorer,” captain and senior midfielder Shawn Pope said. “He’ll just help us out by going to work and scoring.”
Coach Taylor had high praises for Lambrose, as well.
“He’s good on the ball and he can change direction really quick, which is good for a forward,” Taylor said. “The bottom line is that he can put the ball in the back of the net and you always want that guy up front.”
Mardela’s base formation this season will be a 4-4-2, meaning Lambrose will be joined up top with another forward, but having a pure scorer like Lambrose will give the Warriors the ability to shift to a 4-5-1 if more players are needed in the midfield, leaving him up top alone.
There was a third new face to Mardela’s squad this season in senior Italian foreign-exchange student Pasculli Gianpiero. The players described “P” as a central defender who’s a complete ball stopper, but they’ll have to find another player to fill that role after Gianpiero was dismissed from the team after getting into an altercation with a referee in one of Mardela’s preseason scrimmages.
With seven seniors on the squad, a new coach with plenty of expertise and experience and a new goal scorer, Mardela on paper looks to be a favorite in the 1A East to advance to the state tournament once again.
Of course it won’t be a walk in the park to get back. Tough teams in the 1A bracket like Pocomoke stand in their way, while teams from bigger schools like James M. Bennett and Stephen Decatur will be fighting for the Bayside crown.
Taylor isn’t intimidated by the schedule and has faith in his squad.
“This year we’re trying to develop a style of soccer that will take us deep into the season,” he said. “If we can play smart and be disciplined, then we can compete with any team in the Bayside Conference.”
But what about on the championship stage? Can Mardela get back there and win?
That’s the plan, and the expectation.
“We want to do the same exact thing as last season, but get to finals,” captain and senior defender Will Pope said. “We want to go to states and get the job done this time.”