MONON — Hints of smiles appear in every frame.
Axcel Maravilla and Iverson Rodas are asked to stand next to each other in several portrait photos over a 10-minute span, posing with and without soccer balls and recreating penalty-kick shots on the practice field carved out north of the school’s baseball field.
The seniors remain relatively serious throughout the exercise — not because they are asked to, but just in general. However the pair’s looks, when enhanced, contain elements of a grin — and in one, almost a full-blown smile from Rodas.
There is plenty of reason to smile for both. The duo has helped bring their team to a stage it hasn’t walked on since 2016 — North White’s first as a program. The Vikings (13-3-2) face Park (18-3) at 10 a.m. today in the opening round of the Class 1A Marion Regional. A victory advances them to a 7 p.m. regional championship game against either Liberty Christian or Lakewood Park Christian.
Maravilla (44 goals and 22 assists in 68 matches) and Rodas (38 goals, 38 assists, 67 matches) are either at the top or near the top of the school’s career scoring records (complete statistical records were not available via MaxPreps). Makes sense, as they were freshmen when the team played its first season, have played all four years and North White doesn’t have a junior varsity.
There was also a seriousness in the images, which lends more to the larger picture. Maravilla and Rodas reached the regional championship match as freshmen, and want to end with a better feeling than the 3-1 loss in 2016 gave them. If nothing else, reaching the semi-state round is at the top of their to-do list because this is it.
“It’s our last year, so we don’t want to waste it. We don’t want to lose. We have to win this one because we don’t have another year,” Maravilla said.
“We were at their spot the first year,” he added of the 11 freshmen on the 22-man roster. “We were like, ‘Oh, we have four years to go, it’s not going to affect us.’ But the years pass so fast. When you open your eyes, you’re in your last year. It’s crazy.”
“Even they tell (us) sometimes, ‘It’s your last year. We’re going to give everything for you guys,’” he said of their teammates, be they freshmen, sophomores or juniors. “We want to make them feel what we felt the first year.”
Rodas scored seven goals that first season, including a pair in the sectional championship against Hanover Central. The Vikings won, 4-3 on penalty kicks, for a 3-2 aggregate score. They scored four goals in going 1-1 at the regional level, with Rodas adding a tally in a 3-0 regional semifinal win.
Maravilla added a penalty-kick score in the Hanover Central contest — the game-winner, in fact.
“That first year he was the hero of the sectional game by kicking the last penalty kick to (earn) us that sectional championship,” head coach Jeremy Boszor said. “He started out his career like, ‘Wow, we won because I did this.’
“But there were players on the team then who had to get ahold of him and say, ‘Hang on, slow down.’”
Four years later, Maravilla and Rodas led a somewhat muted celebration when North White advanced with a 4-2 win against Carroll, which included a four-goal, second-half comeback. All three noted happiness in the win, but also a feeling of “been there, done that.”
“It’s always a good feeling when you win something, because you work hard for it,” Rodas said. “But you have to be ready for the next game — you always have to be ready for the next thing.”
Added Maravilla, “We were ready for the next game already. We know that the competition at the next level … we are ready for it.”
Maravilla doing anything muted is a bit of a — just call it what it is: maturity. He’s seemingly the emotional heart and soul of the program, and Boszor flatly said, “Axcel has a temper, and likes to show that temper.”
North White collected 25 yellow cards and three red cards over the 2017-18 seasons. There are no cards listed for the Vikings this season, though two were assessed during a sectional semifinal win against Lafayette Central Catholic.
Not all of them were assessed to Maravilla or Rodas, but the now two-year captains are the ones in charge and their leadership is what the team follows, according to the coach. He admitted frustration with the 12 cards accumulated last season in their first year as captains, but noted they’ve worked hard to tamper their temper, individually and as a team.
Maravilla admitted he’s calmed with maturity.
“I feel like I’ve worked more on myself, learning more,” he said. “I’ve been better in everything since that first year … and the way I control the game.
“The last few years, I’d be getting mad at little things. Now I take control of my emotions — even the coach knows,” he laughed as Boszor slowly shut his eyes and passively smiled.
Boszor described Rodas as “that nice, steady influence throughout” his career, especially the last two seasons as the pair turned into captains and team leaders.
When asked what he’s improved since his freshman season, Rodas waxed philosophically.
“You learn something every day out of your teammates, your coach. You always learn something,” he said. “Of course, you have to work hard for it to be better every day. Myself, that’s what I’ve been doing. Trying to work hard, trying to discipline myself in like a lot of aspects. Keep learning every day.”
Part of the learning process came through steadiness and repetition on both ends. Boszor came in as an outsider in multiple ways — the science teacher whose specialty is chemistry and physics not only moved into the school district essentially because of the coaching job but was one of just two Caucasians involved with the soccer program its first season.
“I felt like I was more along for the ride that first year because of the talent level of the team at that point in time,” he said of the inaugural 15-3 season. “As I’ve stuck around, I think that’s a big part of it. … they’ve started to trust me more, I think.
“As I invest my time in their interests, they’ve invested their time in me and are more willing to buy into what I have to say to them. It’s been a growth for everyone.”
His first four-year seniors agree.
“He has give us a lot of motivation,” Rodas said. “When we’re practicing, you feel comfortable with the team, you feel that connection with the coach. If the connection with the coach is good, if the connection with the team is good, you’re going to get … you get something back. You win something, you get something out of that.”
Added Maravilla, “He always tells us if we put in our effort and everything, we can win everything that comes.”
It’s maturity on everyone’s part that has led to an atmosphere where the collective — players and coaching staff — has formed somewhat of a family.
“We work together, we have fun together, if we lose, we lose together. It’s everything about we’re working together,” Maravilla said. “We’re a small school, but we’re not afraid of big schools. Boszor’s always like, ‘Have faith’ and motivate(s) us to do everything we can.”
Everything they can has the pair, at the moment, in near-mirror image. Maravilla has played one more match, and has four more points (114-110), while Rodas has two more shots on goal (112-110). Maravilla is 7 for 8 on penalty-kicks and Rodas is 4 for 5.
Forty-five wins is the number they sit at currently as a pair. When the end comes, it may come with a crooked number — there are, at most, four games left in the season should the Vikings win out.
While Maravilla is dead-set on winning out — “Always we want to win everything. We’re not going to be happy if we lose that game. We’re going for it, we’re going to give everything that we have,” he said — Rodas believes their legacy was set the moment a team photo was taken with a second sectional championship trophy.
“We feel like we have worked hard to make this program go up, and I feel like we — how can I say this? We put something on it. We leave something,” he said. “I’m actually happy because there’s two pictures now of sectional champions. Our freshman year, and now we’re captains and we’re seniors.
“I feel like we (gave) something to this program.”