Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sweet 16 No. 6: Vance

Note: The preseason Sweet 16 continues today with No. 6 Vance. The No. 5 team will be announced Thursday on at 3 p.m. and in Friday's edition of the paper in print.

By Sergio Tovar

Living in the shadow of nearby power house Mallard Creek for the past few years, Vance proved that it could hang with the Mavericks last season.

Despite losing 44-20 in the teams’ regular season meeting, the Cougars upset their heavily-favored rivals 10-7 in a defensive showdown in the 4AA state quarterfinals last November.

Vance coach Phil Culicerto said the win, which was the Cougars’ first against Mallard Creek on the field since October 2007 and Culicerto’s first as head coach, was a big boost for his team and its fans.

“They’ve gotten the best of us the last few years, so it was a great feeling - a great win - for the program,” Culicerto said. “I guess it was our turn that night.”

Culicerto hopes his Cougars, ranked No. 6 in the preseason Sweet 16, can build off last year’s 11-4 season and give the Mavericks a run for the I-Meck 4A conference title.

A good building block will be having junior Larenz Bryant back. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound running back was an all-conference selection last season, rushing for more than 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns.

“As a high school tailback he might be one of the finest,” said Culicerto. “Lorenz is a big man - he’s powerful.”

Quarterback Jalen Latter, who had to give up his the starting job midway through last season, also returns to run the Vance spread offense.

Culicerto said the junior’s experience - having played on the varsity team for the last two years - should help the Cougars.

“He’s gotten more mature and bigger and stronger and faster,” he said. “Jalen’s totally taken control of this football team.”

Culicerto said he hopes to have a well-balanced offense, explaining that opponents’ focus on shutting down the team’s running game hurt them at times.

Vance’s defense, which Culicerto said will revolve around its speed, will be led by its linebackers.

Senior Brian Smallwood, who recorded 65 tackles for the Cougars last year, and Bryant, who added 56 more, will show the way for the group.

“With those two anchoring the inside, our middle’s going to be good,” Culicerto said.
The coach added that he hopes to give players like Bryant, who rarely got a chance to sit out a snap last season, some breathing room with more depth this year.

Culicerto and the Cougars have hopes of winning the I-Meck after being runners-up last season. But their dreams don’t stop there.

“We want to be the team that meets on that Sunday to play for a state title,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. Any coach who doesn’t say that is lying.”

Of course, Mallard Creek will again be standing in their way.

Culicerto doesn’t want his team to get caught up on last year’s playoff win, knowing that some of his young players weren’t on the field.

But Culicerto isn’t shying away. To prepare his team for the Sept. 30 matchup against the Mavericks, he’s scheduled quality non-conference opponents - something he said paid off for his team last fall.

“We knew how to compete early in the year,” he said. “We were better prepared going through our season when we got into our conference.”

Facing 4AA defending champ Butler, as well as Berry, Garinger and Independence, early, Culicerto hopes will force his team to stay hungry.

“I like it that way - I want my kids to have to compete and play hard every snap,” he said. “I want them not to expect to win any games.”

Phil Culicerto.
Last year: 11-4, 6-1 I-Meck (4AA state semifinals).
What’s new: Cougars will aim to have a more balanced attack after being a run-first team last season, having an experienced quarterback and athletic receivers on the roster.
Three to watch:
? RB Larenz Bryant (6-1, 203), Jr.: Rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last year.
? QB Jalen Latter (5-9, 163), Jr.: After losing starting role, he’s back at the helm of the Cougar offense.
? LB Brian Smallwood (6-2, 230), Sr.: Team’s top defensive player recorded 65 tackles last fall.
Bet you didn’t know: Culicerto, who played quarterback at Virginia Tech, has been head coach of the football and baseball teams at NCAA Division III Hampden-Sydney.
Preview analysis: Vance returns a lot of talent, shaping up to be Mallard Creek’s main threat in the I-Meck 4A after defeating the Mavericks in the 4AA state quarterfinals last season.
Schedule: Aug. 19, at Berry; 26, Garinger; Sept. 2, at Independence; 9, at Butler; 16, Hough; 23, at Mooresville; 30, Mallard Creek; Oct. 7, at Lake Norman; 14, North Mecklenburg; 21 Hopewell; 28, at West Charlotte.
Sergio Tovar


Anonymous said...

Go Cougars!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Way to high a ranking. Mallard Creek will destroy them this year

Unknown said...

Destroy Vance? Give me a break! Your one man band is gone. Marquise was 95% of your offense!

Let's go Cougars!