A Season For The Record Books!

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A Season For The Record Books!

Natan Solomon, Staff Writer

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West Boca High School is home to a notoriously good soccer program. Yearly, the team is feared by their opponents and is one that every soccer player around school dreams of being on. Close to 80 kids come to tryouts every year and under 40 end up on either varsity or JV. Coming off of a heartbreak season the year prior, Alex Eden began his tenure as head coach and had high hopes for a success. He has worked his way up the ranks over the years and is the epitome of bull’s soccer. After a short but intense week of tryouts, the varsity team was comprised of one freshman, six sophomores, four juniors, and nine seniors.

The pressure for a district title was immediately on for a number of reasons. Firstly, West Boca is one of the best soccer schools in the region and is consistently expected to deliver. Second, this class of seniors had yet to deliver a district title in their West Boca careers, and this was their last shot. Also, our new coach, Alex Eden, had huge shoes to fill after the departure of the previous head coach who made a name for West Boca as an elite soccer school.

After the first practice the team’s goals were clear: win the district and make a regional playoff run. The three weeks that followed were demanding to say the least. The team hustled with their season goals as the fuel that pushed them forward. Within the blink of an eye the first game had arrived against reigning district champs, Boynton High. A tie in that game was followed by a tie the following against rivals Olympic Heights. Tensions were high after the two draws and this tension turned into a win against Boyd Anderson. The first 3 games led to the biggest challenge we would meet all year: Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale has held a grudge against West Boca since last year’s district semi finals that led to their elimination. Fort Lauderdale had played many more games than West Boca leading up to their first meeting, crushing all their opponents. The final score of the matchup was 4-1, with Ft. Lauderdale’s goalie saving 3 penalty shots. In triumph, they taunted us at the end of the match by saying things like “choke season” (that comes into play later in the story). This loss was a slap in the face to the team and was effectively a wake up call to the team. We decided to move forward and mark our calendars for the rematch, with revenge in mind.

The next key matchup came against Boynton High, for the second time this season. The same way Ft. Lauderdale hated us, we hated Boynton as they defeated us in the district final the year prior. The boys remembered the tears that dripped down their faces as they came up just short a year ago and used this as fuel to get the job done. A win against them came in controversial fashion as two Boynton players were sent off and West Boca capitalized netting the ball three times. Upon a look at the schedule, we knew our work was cut out for us. Three solid teams in Olympic Heights, Boca High, and Ft. Lauderdale were the matchups that awaited.

A draw against Olympic Heights and a 2-1 loss to Boca High sunk the team’s spirits, but the game we all awaited was the rematch against Ft. Lauderdale on our home turf. Coach told the players before the game that he wishes he could play in a game like this and that this should feel like a championship. West Boca came out strong, striking the post twice and constantly pressuring the undefeated team. Then Ft. Lauderdale pounced on our errors, netting four by the end compared to our two goals. This defeat didn’t sit well with the team and discouraged many. However, we knew we outplayed them and knew that if we got the chance to ruin their season in the district tournament, we would.

The regular season was to be capped off on senior night against Spanish River, a team who was ranked top 5 in the state. Spirits were high in the pregame locker room as many of the boys knew, this could be the final time they sat on these benches in front of a whiteboard, preparing for battle. Music blaring, everybody cut streamers into pieces and wore it as headbands, chanting that we would eat sushi tonight against River. The game was a hard fought one that resulted in a 0-0 draw. Generally, coach would be upset with this result but, his grin was from ear to ear. He said after watching us play that night that he was finally excited for the playoffs, that he had been waiting for this fire from us all year.

        The first matchup in the district tournament was against Blanche Ely, the school known for their state championship in football and for being home to rapper Kodak Black during his adolescence, not so much for soccer. In the previous matchup against them we comfortably mercy ruled them and their coach told Coach Eden in the handshake line that they would be ready the next time we played. The game started with a lot of intensity and no goals between the two sides until we broke through to take the lead. After notching another, frustrations took over and violence struck. A call from the referee led to Blanch Ely’s coach forfeiting the game and leaving. On their way out a parent from the crowd screamed a racial slur, prompting the players to climb the fences and riot. The cops eventually broke up the conflict but it was quite the way to begin the playoffs.

Up next for West Boca was Boynton High, a team looking to repeat as district champs. Boynton always gives us a good match but fell off this year due to the loss of seniors. Their coach, Mr.Widrick, is a also a teacher at West Boca so the trash talk was at an all time high. The game started with a quick two goals from Boynton that seemingly sunk our sails. Then, our captain took over. Igor Freitas had possibly the greatest game of his career and arguably the best individual performance in West Boca soccer history. He hit two free kicks to bring the score to two all. The extra time was back and forth but with 1 minute left it looked like the game would be going to penalties. Then Boynton fouled West Boca on the top of the box, granting them a last second free kick opportunity. Igor lined up, looking to complete the comeback, complete the hat trick, and grant West Boca a birth into the District finals as well as the Regional playoff bracket. He struck the ball off the crossbar, onto the goalies face, and into the back of the net. The crowd erupted and the team rushed onto the field to celebrate.

The team celebrated their victory but knew bigger things were to come. The next obstacle was, yup you guessed it, Fort Lauderdale. As the team pulled up to the game they noticed the opposition was already there, laughing as if they had already won and casually warming up like it was a Sunday League game. The Bulls prepared for battle, knowing this may be the biggest game some of them will play in their lives. The whistle blew and immediately Fort Lauderdale came with the pressure they were notorious for. The defense held strong and eventually we broke through with a header from senior Jonathon Ho-on to take a 1-0 lead. The lead held into the 4th quarter until controversy struck. Nick Viera, already on a yellow, was subbed out and received a second yellow for “wasting time”. Now West Boca had to hold a lead for just five more minutes without one of their key wingers and down a man. In injury time, West Boca could taste victory, one more clear would cement us in history. Suddenly, Ft. Lauderdale were awarded an indirect free kick within striking distance of the goal. A dangerous ball was lofted in and headed into the net heartbreakingly. Now West Boca had to ward off an undefeated team down a man through extra time. As West Boca walked back to the benches, spirits were low. It felt as if we had just lost even though the game wasn’t over. Then senior centre back Jonathan Ho-on, not the most talkative person on the team, erupted. He looked around and exclaimed that this isn’t over, that we shouldn’t look as if it’s over and that we need to finish strong and bring home the trophy. The energy carried onto the field and against the odds West Boca began to dominate the play. Then, a little less than halfway through extra time, miracle struck. Victor Nana chipped the goalie to take a 2-1 lead off of an assist from Mitchell Montierro. Sequentially, Ethan Gelb carried the ball and was fouled horrifically by the goalie that once taunted them. Jayden Botha, the lone freshman on the team, then lined up a volley from near half field, sinking it into the netting. The 3-1 scoreline held until the end of the game and West Boca were champions. For many kids on the team it was one of the best moments of their lives and is something they will cherish forever. However, West Boca knew this wasn’t the end of the journey, the Regional tournament was up next.

The first team we would play in the Regional Tournament was Suncoast Academy. The year prior, this is where the season ended for the team, in the quarterfinals. Not a single boy on the team forgot the feeling of heartbreak against Forest Hill and was determined to extend their season further. With a win, West Boca would set program history and advance to the semifinals, uncharted territory for Boys soccer at West Boca. The game opened with dominant play from West Boca in front of the home crowd. Eventually, senior Joao Guimaraes powered in a header to put us ahead. The fire of the team from this game came from Brandon Perez, who was playing against his brother Arnold. The Battle was won by Brandon and the Bulls with a 3-0 win but it didn’t come without a provocative call from the referee (which has been a trend this season). After Igor struck a penalty shot into the net to put the game out of reach, the team celebrated on the sideline, dancing around in triumph. Oddly, the ref came over to the players belligerently and Sophomore Mitchell Montierro saw red. This not only meant he was out for this game, but the following matchup in the semifinals. And the matchup would be against our new found rivals, Fort Lauderdale.

The red card awarded to Mitchell in the previous game was deemed unreasonable and we won the appeal, meaning he was eligible to play in the 4th part of the Ft. Lauderdale saga. The game would be on a Wednesday at home and the opposition was out for revenge. The first whistle blew and they came out flying. Within five minutes the away team slotted one into the back of the net but we answered right back with a goal 2 minutes later. 20 minutes after, Ft. Lauderdale sinked a floating shot into the net to go up 2-1. The score remained that way with West Boca maintaining pressure, attempting to equalize. With just five minutes left, we attempted to push forward and extend our season but a deadly counter attack sunk the team’s hopes. A fourth goal rubbed salt into the wound and cemented the end to a historic season for the bulls. As the final whistle blew every boy in blue collapsed onto the field as if the energy had been sucked out of them. For 9 players on the team, the final whistle signified the end of an era for them, a sad ending to say the least. The boys collected themselves to shake the hands and look into the eyes of their rivals. The team sat on the bench, perpendicular to the center circle that they kicked off the season on. Heads hung low and coach stood, arms crossed thinking of a way to euphemize the team in distress. He said that when we look back on this season, we won’t remember the loss. He said we will remember lifting the trophy that we worked for all season and that this was a season to remember rather then forget. After 20 minutes of reminiscing on the bench, everyone collected their stuff and headed home.

The season was a memorable one to say the least. The seniors that have been chasing a district title finally got one against all odds, against a team that is now headed to the state tournament. It wasn’t only filled with personal accolades, but also with the breaking of a program record that stood tall for years prior. Generally, a sad ending would ruin a story, but this season was an exception. This season was one for the record books!