Three months ago they were nothing more than “a bunch of backups.” Early Saturday evening, they stood proudly with medals around their necks and a state championship trophy in their grasp.
That was the scene-setter as members of the Cypress Bay boys’ soccer team celebrated following their 1-0 victory over Winter Garden West Orange in the Class 5A state championship game at Melbourne High School.
After losing nine would-be returning starters from last year’s national championship team when a rule change by the U.S. youth soccer academy forced top players to choose between high school and year-round club ball, the conventional thinking was that Cypress Bay would fade back into the pack of mediocrity.
But instead, it turned out to be nothing more than fuel for “the backups” as shouts of “three-peat” could be heard loudly from players posing for photos.
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“I took it personally and I think we all did and used that to motivate ourselves all season long,” said senior defender Umberto Diaz. “Sometimes life is full of challenges and you simply have to find a way to meet that challenge. What a tremendous feeling it is for all of us right now.”
Diaz and his teammates can be proud of cracking the history books as well. The win marked the third consecutive state title for the Lightning (19-2-4), making it only the fifth boys team in the state to ever win three in a row, but the first public school to ever do it.
St. Thomas Aquinas is the only other South Florida team to accomplish the feat (1996-98) while Tampa Jesuit (1997-99) was the most recent team to do it. Tampa Berkeley Prep and Clearwater Central Catholic were the other two.
“What an unbelievable job by a group of determined kids,” said Cypress Bay coach John Ramos, who notched his sixth personal state title having won three others at Plantation American Heritage in 2004, 2005 and 2007. “This may be my sixth, but without a doubt it’s the most satisfying because of the circumstances we had to deal with.
“It was a struggle at the beginning of the season and it took some time for everyone to get used to each other and come together, but once they did, you could really feel something special starting to build.”
The only score of the contest in what turned out to be the game-winner came in the game’s 25th minute when Cypress Bay’s Breno Ertty took a free kick from 20 yards out and dumped it in front of the net. The ball bounced back out where Ertty soft-tapped it to Daniel Gutierrez who was in front of the pack.
Thanks to a West Orange defender who was too far up, offsides was not called and Gutierrez tapped it over goalkeeper Drew Trautmann’s head into the back of the net.
“We always work on plays like that and Breno did a great job of tapping it over the pack to me without kicking it too far,” said Gutierrez. “Once I saw the keeper commit I just tapped it over his head.”
From there, the Lightning defense and goalkeeper Hector Fernandez took over. A team that never game up a single goal in six postseason games made it seven. West Orange (19-1-0) pressed hard offensively in the second half to try and get the equalizer but it never came.
“We heard everyone all year long tell us what we couldn’t do, and today we proved to them what we could do,” said Ertty, the team’s senior captain. “That kept us hungry and focused all season long and there’s nothing like the feeling of going out there and proving everyone wrong.”