DEERFIELD — Stevenson’s boys soccer team had just lost a 1-0 decision at Deerfield.
As most of the team drank fluids to hydrate after temperatures for the Sept. 4 game approached 90 degrees, senior captains Ethan Marx, Mitch Gullett and Sam Zwirn met privately with coach Mark Schartner.
“We really wanted to win [against Deerfield],” Marx said of a game in which the Patriots failed to convert numerous first-half scoring chances. “[Schartner] told us that when [the captains] talk to the team alone, he wanted us to make them realize we have a whole season ahead of us and to put the loss behind us.”
That was the unified message when the captains spoke to their teammates. September losses do not define a season.
If the Patriots are to shake off the mental strain of early season defeats, much rests on the skill and leadership of Marx and Gullett. Both are center midfielders, capable of covering a wide stretch of field.
“They are very versatile,” Schartner said. “I can put [Marx] anywhere on the field and we’re going to get better at that position. He and Gullett are both in that position.”
Schartner generates offense by pairing the two players in the Patriots’ final third. Marx is an attacking midfielder who leverages his 6-foot-2, 177-pound frame to ward off defenders in the air and on his feet. Gullett is more defensive-minded, often used at the sweeper position or as a lone striker.
A sturdy 5-11, 168 pounds, Gullett prefers to play through balls for Marx and the Patriots’ other top goal scorer, junior Jun Min.
“I love creating the offense and distributing to the other attackers so they can get into the [goal] box and score,” Gullett said. “Ethan is fast and strong and I like passing to him on through runs.”
Schartner asks more of Marx and Gullett outside of the run of play. They, along with Zwirn, lead daily practice warmups before Schartner arrives. Often, if Schartner is struggling with a decision, he will consult with one of them.
“If [Schartner] is debating on a drill, he’ll ask me what the team needs,” Marx said.
One example came during the season-opening invitational at Glenbrook South, where the Patriots finished 2-1-1 but struggled at times to convert breakaway chances. Marx suggested drills designed to improve the team’s offensive sharpness.
“I’m glad that I have that input,” Marx said. “I’m glad that he feels comfortable with me to help this team and help our guys out.”
Although the practice work leading up to the Deerfield game didn’t translate to goals, the Patriots were crisper on offense in the first half. Gullett, Marx and Zwirn reminded teammates of that improvement after the loss, and have hopes of a payoff.
“I think we can reach our full potential by midseason,” Gullett said. “We are serious about this.”