”For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.” — Rudyard Kipling

Aces soccer legend Nev Duruman, 2017 John A Holmes class valedictorian and AAC Conference Player of the Year, now of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke this week with Los Lobos’ head coach, Dr. Thomas Di Martino.

Nev Duruman: Dr. D, it’s good to talk again! I’ve been biting my nails with this year’s Aces squad. What a story!

Coach D: Nev, ya’ can’t make this stuff up. This past week won’t soon be forgotten.

Nev: With a squad that Coach Mark Montgomery, calls “The Graveyard Shift,” you’ve scratched out result after result.

Coach D: [Coach laughs] It’s a rag-tag crew, Nev. But we’re getting the job done.

Nev: Coach, tell us about Manteo II. This one stunned me.

Coach D: Nev, playing Manteo is like wrestling an alligator. If you relax for a second, he’ll eat you. Entering the match, Manteo’s conference record, going back to 2014, was 74-2. They were ranked # 4 in North Carolina 1A, and undefeated this season. Their only non-win was a draw with perennial 2A Final Four squad First Flight, who are currently ranked #7 in 2A. And mighty First Flight needed two late goals to salvage that tie.

Nev: But you eked out a draw with the monster on Monday.

Coach D: Our boys weren’t impressed by his teeth. They were so relaxed in warm-up, I thought they’d already conceded defeat. But no,—at the first whistle they took to the field like wolves to the hunt, grim and focused, smelling blood.

Nev: This was a very different match from the first end of the Manteo brace.

Coach D: Indeed it was. In that first outing we were fortunate to hold Manteo to three goals. They were clearly the dominant side. We played mostly in our own end and didn’t get many good chances. But not this time! This one was a flowing match, up and down the pitch. Toe to toe, it was. At the half, the score was 0-0. At eighty minutes it was 1-1. At one hundred minutes, it was still 1-1. This wasn’t a freak result. The draw was earned.

Nev: Coach, your kids have at a tremendous work rate on the pitch. With a roster of fourteen, how do you sustain that in the second forty minutes? And then in twenty minutes overtime, against a stocked squad like Manteo?

Coach D: These boys have never stopped surprising me, Nev. Their conditioning is superb. And their heart is bigger, yet. And Jacob Colon, our All-Region goalkeeper, found his form this night. In the waning minutes, when legs were heavy, Jacob was called upon three times; and three times he answered with stunning, acrobatic saves. The boys earned the draw and Jacob preserved it for us.

Nev: You had your way with Gates County last Wednesday.

Coach D: Gates plays with heart; but that evening we put on our dancing shoes, and we waltzed. We drove the first nail in the coffin at about fourteen minutes, and the last at about the seventieth minute. Axel Preciado scored four of our seven goals. Our defense again stood the test and Jacob Colon earned his second clean sheet.

Nev: And Camden II last Thursday; nobody would have believed it.

Coach D: Existential angst, Nev: that’s Edenton and Camden. We’ve played 200 minutes of frantic football with our arch-rival over two matches this season, and only two goals have been produced. Both matches required two overtime periods. The first match ended scorelessly and we eked out the penalty kick win. The return match was similarly traumatizing. The final was 1-1, PK’s were not taken, and the tie was awarded. I’m just exhausted at the end of these things—I feel as if I’ve played, myself.

Nev: So where do we stand, Coach?

Coach D: Nev, we’ve lost only one of our last eight matches. We have only one loss in conference. We have two games remaining. We need to win those two. That’s a stern calling. The conference is tough this year.

Nev: Coach, is there a player you’d like to highlight this week?

Coach D: Nev, I want to mention Axel Preciado. Axel has developed beautifully this year. He’s become a predator on the pitch. He lurks. He’s found the jugular for us six times in our last three matches, including our only goal in both Manteo II and Camden II. He just smells blood, sees where the keeper isn’t, and slots it home. It’s composure. It’s a beautiful thing.

Nev: One last question, Dr. D: Why does the team call itself “Los Lobos?”

Coach D.: Nev, Los Lobos means “The Wolves.” In the early days, when I was new as head coach, and we were beginning to instill our ethos, our style of play, this was the image that presented itself. It started as an inside joke, because, years ago I’d played against — and sometimes with — an adult team of that name, rostered by fathers of a number of the boys who played for us. But the name conveyed what I wanted the boys to internalize — the cooperative, intelligent, self-sacrificing, predatory ethos that is the soil in which soccer can germinate and grow and become The Beautiful Game.

Nev: Thank you, Coach. We’ll be following with keen interest.

Coach D.: And I, Nev, will keep eyes your trajectory. Keep up the strong work!

Contact Nicole Bowman-Layton at nlayton@ncweeklies.com.