HIGH POINT — Of the seven High Point University men’s soccer players from North Carolina, Mason Marcey is the only one who will have a true home pitch advantage at the Matthews Sportsplex when the Panthers face Georgetown today at noon in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Marcey, a senior midfielder, played in high school at Charlotte Christian and was a four-year starter at the Charlotte Soccer Academy. He recalls playing two games in the stadium where today’s game will be played and 35-40 in the complex.
It’s lovely for me,” Marcey said of playing at home. “But more than that, it’s great for my family. They can watch and it’s super close to home. That means a lot to me.”
The game close to home comes at the end of a long college journey for Marcey. He started his college career at Radford and transferred after one season to Valparaiso, where he played two seasons and was the team’s top goal scorer as a junior. He didn’t get a chance to play his senior season there because the soccer program was disbanded.
Because the program was terminated, Marcey was able to transfer without sitting out a season and chose High Point.
“Zach (head coach Zach Haines) had a clear vision for this program,” Marcey said. “He was promising games like this one coming up. He told me if I came here, I would be a part of something good.”
The something good for the Panthers is a 12-1 record that includes a 10-0 mark against Big South competition that produced conference regular season and tournament championships.
The Panthers have posted six shutouts, have allowed a total of seven goals and have outscored their opponents by a national-best 31 goals.
Marcey has started to find his offense lately and has scored twice.
“I have had more stats the past couple of seasons, but that’s not what I base my game off of,” Marcey said. “It’s nice if they come. It looks pretty, but that’s not what I care about. I just want to help the team win, doing what you are supposed to do like breaking up plays and making tackles.”
Defense could be at a premium on Sunday. Eighth-seeded Georgetown, the Big East regular-season champ, has allowed seven goals in 11 games. More than that, the Hoyas’ main keeper, Giannis Nikopolidis, has allowed four goals in nine games.
“They’re a physical team, so we have to be ready for the fight,” Marcey said. “I think we will be. We’ve been up for the fight in every game this year, so I think we will be.
“I think we’re too clean on our possessions for it to turn into a scrum. But there are moments when we’ll have to stand toe-to toe.”
Haines believes the Panthers must be aggressive on offense.
“Georgetown doesn’t give up many goals because they press real high, not because they sit back, ” Haines said. “They turn teams over in the attacking half and a lot of their goals come in those transition moments. They are more of a team that is proud of all 10 players being involved in their defensive duties. We’re going to have to be brave with the ball. We can’t come out and try to go long or get behind their defense. We can’t get away from what’s worked for us, and we have to find ways to be effective against a team with a really high press.”
One thing the Panthers will try to avoid is giving up a goal in the opening minutes as it did in the regular-season finale against UNC Asheville and the Big South championship game against USC Upstate.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re making tackles right from the kickoff,” said HPU middle back Nick Phipps, the Big South tournament MVP. “That first tackle, get your confidence up, and that should help throughout the game. And we can’t make silly turnovers in the back. If you make a turnover in the defensive third, then it causes a panic moment, and you have to make sure you get your blocks in.”
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