Staff Writer

LINWOOD — The seniors on Mainland Regional’s girls soccer roster talk at length about what makes this year’s team special. It’s the chemistry that they’ve been building since early in the summer — during a normal preseason, something the Mustangs didn’t have prior to the 2020 season but still managed to go 10-2.

The Stangs have picked up right where they left off, bolting out to a 5-1-1 mark this year. That fifth win — and the team’s third straight — came Wednesday afternoon in a 2-0 victory over visiting Oakcrest. Earlier this year Mainland tied Shawnee, 1-1, and its lone loss came against rival Ocean City. In fact, Ocean City is the only team to beat Mainland the past two seasons, as the Red Raiders scored a pair of wins over the Stangs in the Covid-shortened 2020 season.

Against Oakcrest, the Mustangs started off slowly but came to life in the second half as Emma Karver took a feed from senior Julia Kaes and put Mainland up, 1-0, a little less than four minutes into the second half. Mainland punctuated the win with senior forward Camryn Dirkes scoring off a Kaes assist with just less than seven minutes remaining.

“I think coming into this season we were all really excited because we have a really good group of girls. We know how to pass the ball and have really good teamwork. Today, we started out a little slowly but then we started to pick it up and you could see the energy we displayed in the second half, and that’s when we got our goals,” Kaes said. “In the first half we weren’t keeping the ball as much, but (in the second half) when we started possessing the ball more we seemed to find the open girl. We were moving off the ball more and we just started having fun. You could see it in everyone’s faces — we were determined to win, this is our home field, and we definitely showed up (in the second half).”

Glory Days photo/Sully

“I think it was just the trust that we have in each other this year coming into preseason — especially since last year we didn’t really have a preseason. We were really able to build that chemistry that is so crucial for our game,” Dirkes added. “Coming into the second half we really had that trust that we would get one into the back of the net. Having that trust is what kept us going and motivated, and composed throughout the second half.”

Mainland was thwarted throughout the first half, and a big reason for that was Oakcrest keeper Gabbie Gibson. She finished with an eye-popping 16 saves, including three big-time stops in succession on a corner kick scenario in the 18th minute. Then, just before halftime, she made a diving save on a shot from Dirkes from about 12 yards out to keep the game scoreless going into halftime. By contrast, Mainland keeper Genevieve Morrison was forced to make just one save to record the clean sheet.

“We definitely got frustrated. You could see it in everyone’s faces at halftime,” Kaes said. “We were definitely getting on ourselves about it, but that just makes us better. We’re tough on ourselves, but at the end of the day that just makes us work harder. I think that frustration — we definitely took it out on the field in the second half.”

Glory Days photo/Sully

Mainland (5-1-1, 5-1 Cape-Atlantic League National) is hot on the heels of Ocean City (6-0, 6-0) in the race for a division title, and the teams will meet again on Oct. 12. Mainland travels to Absegami today before a big game against Wildwood Catholic in Linwood on Monday.

“I think we’re going to have a really good season. there are just too many good girls on this team to not go far,” Kaes said. “We have great teamwork, our bench is cheering for us and everyone is loud. We just want to win, and we want to do it together. It’s my senior season and we just want to win. We want to go far because we want to keep playing. We don’t want this to end.”

“We’re just kind of rolling through the schedule. We have a loss but that’s not going to stop us, especially so early in the season. We just want to keep doing the job. We know we can win games, and we’re looking forward to Oct. 12 when we see (Ocean City) again,” Dirkes said. “The chemistry is so crucial. We’re so close this year. Other years we might have had more talent, but this year we have such a good core group of girls. Having that moving forward is really motivating us.”

What’s next: Mainland travels to Absegami today at 4 p.m. Oakcrest hosts OLMA on Friday at 4 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays