The Cypress Bay Lightning and American Heritage Patriots won state titles last year in boys’ soccer. For the Lightning, it was the second in a row. For the Patriots, it was their fifth since 2004.
But that’s it. That’s where it was supposed to end.
The U.S. youth soccer academy ravaged both their lineups in a way only Miami Marlins fans could truly relate. The Lightning, ranked No. 1 in the nation last season, lost nine starters to the academy. The Patriots lost 12 players, including six starters. “The academy was supposed to be the death of high school soccer in South Florida,” Heritage coach Richard Jobson said. “But it wasn’t.”
The Lightning and Patriots are indeed very much alive and will play for state titles this weekend in Melbourne.
Here is a closer look at both teams’ quests for more soccer glory:
• Class 3A state final — American Heritage (23-3-2) vs. Ponte Vedra (23-2-4), 10:05 a.m. Saturday: A fifth-year program from the Jacksonville area, Ponte Vedra has a senior-laden team that had never been to a state final four before this season. The Sharks have allowed only one goal in four playoff games (10-1 differential) and rallied to beat Sunlake 2-1 in the state semifinals.
The Sharks will be tested by Heritage senior Jamar Campion-Hinds, an FIU recruit who leads the team with 28 goals and is especially dangerous on the wings.
“He is one of the fastest soccer players in the country,” Jobson said. “He comes from Jamaica, where they build speed. He’s run a 10.5 in the 100, and I think he will run track this spring.”
The Patriots will play without midfield general Julian Bentencur, who leads the team with 25 assists but was issued a red card for inappropriate language.
With him out, senior Donald Tomlinson, an FIU recruit and Heritage’s best tackler, will go to a more attacking role in the midfield. He has 20 goals.
Junior Samuel Vinson, a member of the Canadian Youth National Team, is a “zero mistake” defender, Jobson said, but will play midfielder to give the offense more punch. If Heritage gets a lead, he could drop back and play defense.
Junior Nicolance Reganc, senior Bjman Suarez and freshman Devon Nothard also provide support.
• Class 5A state final — Cypress Bay (18-2-4) vs. Winter Garden West Orange (19-0), 4 p.m. Saturday: West Orange, which had never made it past regional finals before this season, wasn’t even considered one of the top two teams in its own district this year.
But everything has been going West Orange’s way, including a 2-1 state semifinal win over Gainesville Buchholz, which had been ranked No. 2 in the nation by MaxPreps.
West Orange scored on a penalty kick to snap a scoreless tie, and Buchholz had to play the rest of the way with only 10 players because of a red card.
Cypress Bay, meanwhile, has won eight in a row, all shutouts. In the state semifinals, the Lightning won 2-0 over Boca Raton, which had been rated No. 4 in the country.
The Lightning’s only returning starters from last season are senior goalie Hector Fernandez and senior defender Breno Ertty. In total, Cypress Bay starts four seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen.
Coach John Ramos, 39, who has won five state titles — three at Heritage and two at Cypress Bay — said the key is the freshmen duo at midfield: Miguel Perez and Jake Fuhrman.
“Strong midfield has always been the core of how we play,” Ramos said.
Fernandez, the goalie, has improved since the start of the district playoffs.
“At the start of the season, he was complacent because he really didn’t have a No. 2 goalie to push him,” Ramos said. “He’s always been talented. But over the past few games, he has been more focused.”