Los Jets’ dominant and highly successful 2023 campaign came to an end last Thursday.
Jordan-Matthews’ boys soccer team lost on the road to Franklin Academy, 5-0, in the fourth round of the 2A state playoffs. The Jets finished the season with an overall record of 16-2-2, losing just one game in conference play.
Against the Patriots, Jordan-Matthews had to adjust to the faster pace of play on a turf field and committed defensive errors that led to a 3-0 deficit at halftime. The Jets also found difficulty finishing shots, missing opportunities to climb back into the game and put pressure on Franklin Academy.
That was only the second time the Jets were shut out this season after losing 3-0 to Seaforth in September.
Despite the disappointing loss, Jordan-Matthews still had a season to celebrate.
Many of the Jets’ starters this season did not see the field much just a year prior, but they stepped up and carried on the program’s high standard.
Nine players were named to the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A all-conference first team, and two made the second team. Senior Johnathan Campos was named the conference defensive player of the year, and head coach Paul Cuadros earned the honors of conference coach of the year.
On top of that, Jordan-Matthews only lost one game in the regular season, outdueling quality opponents along the way.
“The conference changed this year, and it became a lot tougher,” Cuadros said. “I think the conference was really up for grabs between Jordan-Matthews, Northwood, Southeast Alamance and North Moore. That made it a more competitive race this fall, which was awesome…It increased our RPI incredibly this year, and that made a real difference in the playoffs.”
Following its first loss of the season to Seaforth, the Jets went on a tear, completing seven shut outs in a row and outscoring the rest of their regular season opponents, 46-1.
“After (the Seaforth loss), it gave us a boost of confidence to come back harder and stronger for the second half of the season,” Campos said.
One of the wins before that stretch, though, proved to Cuadros that this team could have a really special season.
“I think for us, the real daunting moment was going on the road and playing at Southeast Alamance,” Cuadros said. “Seeing some of the guys Southeast Alamance had, they had some really great players. Fast, speedy players who could really work the ball. And then just travelling on the road and playing a high intensity game that was essentially a playoff level game, hanging with them, being physical with them and then prevailing at the end. That, for me in my mind, said that this was going to be a different team this year.”
Exactly a month after beating Southeast Alamance, 2-1, Jordan-Matthews beat the Stallions again at home, 9-0.
A strong finish to the season and a fourth consecutive conference title (third straight Mid-Carolina 1A/2A title) earned the Jets a third seed in the state playoffs, giving them home field advantage for the first three rounds.
Instead of facing just the tough and familiar competition in their conference, the Jets had to take on talented and unfamiliar programs from around the state.
“Many of us had to step up,” senior Jair Ruiz said. “It was many of us’ first time starting in a playoff game. So, I think it was a new experience, but we had to adapt to it quickly in order to win.”
Jordan-Matthews started the postseason off strong, beating South Lenoir, 7-1, in the first round.
In the warm-ups just before its second round matchup with St. Pauls, the team found out that Cuadros wouldn’t be on the sidelines due to a personal matter. Still, they won big for Cuadros, 5-0, with assistant coach Kevin Sifuentes taking over for the night.
“At first, I feel like some people were nervous because they didn’t know how the team would handle it,” Campos said. “But then I feel like we just all got together and just decided to do it for Coach Cuadros because of what he was going through. So, that boosted us a bit and gave us a spark of energy to play harder.”
Competition got much tougher in the third round as the Jets had to grind out their last win of the season in a physical, 1-0, battle against Wallace-Rose Hill.
Despite so many important players graduating this season, including but not limited to Campos, Ruiz and Giancarlo Aguila, Jordan-Matthews still has a positive outlook on its future.
Campos and Ruiz, two of the team’s four team captains, said they’re looking at goalkeeper Angelo Vera, Francisco Ibarra and Emir Vargas-Zarate as the key players that should step up for the team next year.
“I think the guys that we had that were support players this season need to do the same next season and really need to step up and do the best in the game and also learn the system of play that we play,” Cuadros said. “We’re returning a lot of great guys too. This is not an emptied team at all.”