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Dacula boys soccer back in the playoffs with hard work

Nick Mattiucci wants to be clear, he is not satisfied with Dacula’s soccer season.

Sure, the Falcons qualified for the playoffs for the first time in three years. And, OK, they did it by rattling off wins in their final two region games to clinch the No. 3 seed from 8-AAAAAA. Not to forget, those two region wins were the exact games Dacula lost last season with the playoffs on the line. Oh, and before the season began the expectations surrounding the Falcons boys soccer team could be described as tempered.

But Mattiucci, one of two senior captains, doesn’t want to talk about satisfaction.

“Satisfying is not a good word,” he said. “I am not satisfied with just making the playoff, I don’t want that. I don’t want a moral victory. I want to be a team that’s a blue collar, working hard team and we made it far (in the playoffs). I don’t want the moral victory. I don’t just want the satisfaction of making the playoffs.

“I want to be Johns Creek.”

Dacula travels to Johns Creek on Tuesday for its first round game in the Class AAAAAA playoffs. Johns Creek won the regular season meeting 2-0.

Past results don’t mean much to this Dacula team. They’ve seen the season turn from hopeful to unforgettable with wins over Parkview and South Gwinnett as part of a four-game winning streak spanning the weeks before and after spring break. They entered the final two region games 3-3 the past two seasons. This year, led by a determined and selfless group of seniors, those two games returned the Falcons to the playoff rather than end their season.

“I couldn’t think of a better moment,” fellow captain Marco Cando said. “When we won that South Gwinnett game, I was so happy.”

Head coach Mark Karen, a state champion coach while coaching the North Gwinnett girls, said the South Gwinnett game ranks near the top of his accomplishments and joys as a coach.

“For this team, the way they’ve don’t it, it’s easily among my top two or three teams,” Karen said. “There were no expectations from anybody other than us.”

Karen even admits the expectations from the coaches and players was slightly muted at the year’s beginning.

The coaches and team knew there were a talented crop of young players, but the leading scorer from last season decided not to play and 8-AAAAAA had the defending state champion in Berkmar among its top teams, as well as Brookwood and Central Gwinnett and Parkview.

“I would say when you sit down at the beginning of the season, you sit dow and make team goals. There are few teams that don’t say they want to make the playoffs,” Karen said. “To go 5-3 and finish No. 3 in the region was probably unexpected from the standpoint of everybody around us. If you polled the coaches we probably weren’t going to be on that list by anybody.”

They are on the list now.

The revival didn’t come, as often happens, from the arrival of one dominant player. Dacula turned its soccer fortunes on the backs of a team-based attack and philosophy. Seven players have scored at least three goals this season.

“It’s been more of a team-oriented season,” Mattiucci said. “We’ve been looking out for each other and playing more for each other than ourselves.”

Defending his assertion, Mattiucci quickly admits that along with his fellow seniors, he lacks the technical soccer skills of the younger players. Leading goal scorer Edgar Huerta is a junior and goalie Bryce Lackey and his 1.89 goals against average is a sophomore.

“Our team is a whole-team effort,” Mattiucci said. “The younger buys bring the more technical side in. The sophomores and freshmen help the seniors play soccer, but we help (them) building being tough and being aggressive.”

“A lot of players know they don’t have the technical ability,” Cando said. “They know if they just work hard for us then it will make the whole team better. That’s what’s giving us success.”

Karen said after games opposing coaches will often call, email or text him, saying, “What a hard working team you are, what an athletic team we are. They never said we were a good soccer team.”

For this group of Falcons, those comments are not pejoratives, rather they are the highest honor.

“For our team we don’t have a star player,” Mattiucci said. “We don’t have a player that everyone knows is All-County. We just have the average, blue collar team.”