After terrific seasons, Manteo and First Flight women’s soccer teams hit the playoffs

By on May 13, 2023

Manteo High School's women's soccer team will compete in the 2A playoffs starting Monday.
First Flight High School's women's soccer team will compete in the 3A playoffs starting Monday. (Photo by Taylor Newton/courtesy of Joel Mount, head coach for First Flight women's soccer)
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After finishing first and second respectively in the Northeastern Coastal 2A/3A Conference this season, the Manteo High School and First Flight High School women’s soccer teams are advancing to the playoffs, which start on May 15.

Both teams enter the playoffs after completing terrific regular seasons. The undefeated Manteo squad finished at 19-0-2 overall. First Flight’s record, while not unblemished, was a strong 17-3-1.

Manteo will now play South Granville at home at 7 p.m. on May 15 as it competes in the 2A tournament bracket. First Flight, which competes in the 3A bracket because of its larger size, will play Lee County at home on the same day and time.

Manteo Head Coach Ralph Cleaver makes his team’s post-season hopes clear.

“Our goal is to be state champs,” Cleaver told the Voice. “We have the talent to do it. We just need to continue to have the mindset and the will to like push through, and not be complacent…we talked about having the hunger to go all the way.”

“Our effort is outstanding,” said Head Coach Joel Mount of his First Flight team. The players are “super supportive” of each other and have “great chemistry…This year, our goal is honestly to be as competitive as we can be for as long as we can be.”

Both schools’ soccer programs have been consistently strong over the years. Manteo’s soccer teams have yet to win a state title. First Flight’s women’s team won the state title in both 2008 and 2018, and First Flight’s men’s team won the state title in 2016.

Last year, Manteo’s women’s team made it to the fourth round of playoffs, but “we had a lot of injury issues last year [that] hampered us,” Cleaver said.

“I’m really impressed with the girls this year,” he observed. “We’re not just winning and scoring a lot, but we’re playing really beautiful soccer. They’re passing the ball well on the ground, [and] we have really high-level combinations and advanced-level play…We can win games in a lot of different ways.”

This is Mount’s first year as head coach of the First Flight women’s team, having taken the reins after Juan Ramirez decided to just coach men’s soccer this year. Mount had been an assistant coach on the women’s team since 2018 and an assistant coach for the men’s team since 2015.

Last year, First Flight’s women’s team made it to the second round of playoffs. “The team that we lost to made it all the way to the state championship game,” Mount said. “They were a really, really good team. They were loaded with seniors.”

The two Dare County teams met this season on April 19, when Manteo won 2-0 in a home game against First Flight. That was also “Vrablic Night,” honoring longtime, former Coach Frank Vrablic, who established the women’s high school soccer program in Dare County and who played a key role in establishing and growing the men’s program as well.

“We had a lot of fans come in from out of town for Coach Vrablic, and fans just to watch the game, so we had a huge, huge crowd that night—great support—and it was a really exciting game as well, hard fought on both sides,” Cleaver said.

The following Monday, Manteo faced off against Currituck. Manteo was down 2-0 at halftime but had “a really amazing comeback in the second half,” winning 4-2, he said. “That win with Currituck pretty much sealed the conference championship for us.”

For his part, Mount said he couldn’t point to a single moment or moments as highlights in this year’s season for First Flight.

“This year has been great,” Mount stated. “The girls are great; they’re really a tight-knit group. There’s no one highlight. I think the whole season has been a really good experience.”

A significant number of both Manteo’s and First Flight’s team members play soccer year-round for travel teams, either locally with OBX Storm or in Virginia with Beach FC and Rush, according to both coaches.

Besides travel soccer team players, Mount said, “We also have a lot of triathletes—girls that are doing cross-country in the fall, indoor track or swim in the winter and soccer in the spring. The relationships that you build in all these different areas, when you kind of compile that into one team, it helps.”

Cleaver hopes that younger girls in the area take note as well.

“This group has been a really great example set for younger girls to see their talent and ability, but also to hopefully know and see that they’ve worked hard for years to be at this level…and it’s paid off,” he said.

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