Two years ago, Erik Severson had a season to forget.
Severson spent his entire sophomore season at Metea Valley watching from the sidelines, after suffering his fourth ankle injury in recent years that prompted a complete shutdown of playing soccer.
To make things worse, it was a bad season for the Mustangs, who finished with a 4-11-4 overall record.
Fast forward one year later, and it was a completely different story for Severson and Co.
The Mustangs, led by high-scoring midfielder Evan Lang, improved its record to 15-8-2. Free from injuries, Severson was a key contributor in Metea Valley’s run to a Class 3A regional championship.
“My sophomore year was really tough, because I didn’t play (at all) and we lost a lot of games,” Severson said. “I really learned it’s very important to have really good team chemistry.
“The prior year when I was injured, we had a lot of good players, but we just didn’t play well together. We grew tremendously my junior year, because of our team chemistry.”
Severson showed a lot of perseverance getting back on the pitch. Before the series of ankle injuries, Severson admitted he dabbled in football, basketball and track. He eventually stopped playing other sports to concentrate on soccer to avoid unnecessary ankle injuries.
“Each time I went to the doctor, they extended my injury time,” Severson said. “It was really tough. Dealing with an injury is really hard, but to be healthy now is a great feeling.”
With the fall season right around the corner, Severson is focused on winning another regional title and adding a sectional championship to Metea Valley’s growing trophy case. The road to the state finals goes through Naperville North, which has won consecutive 3A state titles.
“We have to come out strong early in games, and we struggled with that last year,” Severson said. “We made a lot of games more interesting than they should have been. I really want to get to the sectional championship and improve from last year. We can do that.”
Overall, Metea Valley is in good health. Under the direction of coach Josh Robinson, the growing program has won at least 10 games in four of the last six seasons. Robinson is hoping the 2016 season total of four wins was just an aberration.
“In 2017, we made a major cultural change working on changing expectations as far as our work rate, willingness to play for their team and moving beyond individual issues,” Robinson said. “The boys bought into this and made the season amazingly successful and enjoyable.
“The goal is to build and grow that culture, which has meant a lot of goal setting for all 80-plus players in the program, as well as giving players a role in developing standards and expectations for next year.”
Robinson said the culture change was a big step in building the program to compete with the top teams in the area on an annual basis. He prefers the Mustangs’ tough schedule to help the team prepare for a rugged sectional.
“The key to success for the boys next season is to maintain a consistency of play during a grueling season,” Robinson said. “The best teams show up each and every day and understand the grind that high school soccer is.
“The players need to be committed to that and focus on each game rather than long-term goals. We have established goals and expectations that are manageable rather than focusing on large end-of-the-year goals.
“I continually think our program creates one of the most difficult schedules in the state, as we had multiple sectional finalists on our schedule last year. It means our record will rarely be stellar, but it makes us better in the long run.”