MACON — The Meridian-Sangamon Valley soccer team has a strong family connection.
The boys team features two sets of brothers and leading scorer Evan Dawson is the fourth of four siblings to make their way through the Hawks program.
Dawson’s older sister, Ashley Dawson, is right there on the field as Meridian’s assistant boys coach (and head girls coach in the spring).
When a debate started as to which game Evan scored a “perfect hat trick", a goal with his left foot, a goal with his right foot, and one as a header, a quick call to their mother, Angela Dawson, gave the answer.
Evan’s five-goal game was against Taylorville and the hat trick was against Decatur Christian. When you’ve scored 27 goals this season as Evan has, it’s a little hard to keep it all straight.
Dawson’s play has propelled the Hawks from a 5-14 record last year to a 10-5-1 record this season. They have one of their biggest challenges of the season on Tuesday, playing at St. Teresa (13-1-3).
A second meeting with the Bulldogs could be in the Hawks' future — both teams are paired in the same regional when the postseason begin next Friday.
"St. Teresa is a big one for us next week and that has always been intimidating," Meridian coach Matthew Rund said. "They have always had that big program and I’m looking forward to seeing how these kids will be able to go to task with that big of a program."
The Meridian program has grown substantially recently — the roster has 12 freshmen and several older players who are competing for the first time.
Rund looks to Evan to lead the team and help coach up the young squad, something Evan has embraced wholeheartedly.
"Evan doesn’t lose his patience with the kids. He knows that they’ve got three years to learn and so he doesn’t expect them to know everything right away but he does expect them to carry their workload," Rund said. "That has worked out very well."
Evan said he relishes the challenge of being a mentor.
" I enjoy bringing up the next group, I enjoy making them great. We’ve been playing really well, good communication and good passes all around," he said.
Ashley Dawson has watched Evan come out of his shell.
"He’s also become a leader this year, he has really embraced that role," Ashley said. "Last year he was kind of hidden a little bit. He plays aggressively. We like our players intense and he is definitely one of the more aggressive players.
"He has been working a lot with his left foot. He’s grown to love that left side now, which is where most of his goals have come from."
Through the work of Evan and the team's other captains — senior Kyler Kantor and juniors Ian Young and Jesse Hamilton — the squad has become like a family, which can be a struggle for some co-op teams.
"It’s a great group of boys and for it being a co-op you wouldn’t know it," Ashley said. "Sometimes with a co-op you can definitely tell these kids from those kids but you can’t tell here. They all do wonderfully together."
Working together has been the key to the improving Hawks this season.
"I would say the big difference is teamwork — we are playing as one unit instead of individuals," Evan said. "Team chemistry too — we are really good friends, all of us. We are just one unit. The co-op gets us out there meeting new people and it is nice."
Ashley played goalie for the Hawks in high school and then played in the midfield for Robert Morris University. She said she hopes her younger brother will get the same opportunity to continue playing soccer.
"I think Evan will be able to continue on in college. It will take a lot of work but he is ready for it."
Evan is in the middle of campus visits, including a stop at Millikin, and he is enjoying the recruiting process that can prove stressful for some.
"It’s exciting to go through the process. I get out there and search and contact as many coaches as I can. I enjoy it," he said.