A new top scorer, a first-year head coach and the same reliable goalie — those are the key elements that have helped Archbishop McCarthy’s boys’ soccer team make a historic run to state.
Before this week, McCarthy had never made it past the regional semifinals. But Thursday at 10 a.m. in Melbourne, coach Michael Martin will lead the Mavericks (18-5-1) against Choctawhatchee (22-4-1) in a Class 3A state semifinal.
Junior Daniel Reese has emerged as McCarthy’s top scorer despite starting the season on defense. Switched to forward when Nick Covone broke his foot, Reese showed what he could do by producing 22 goals and 12 assists in just 12 games.
Reese, who has a 4.4 weighted grade-point average, won a state title last year as a starter for Cypress Bay. But he transferred because he wanted to be challenged more academically.
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The coaches at Cypress Bay weren’t too happy with that, according to Reese.
“They said: ‘Why would you ever leave us? McCarthy is never going to go anywhere,’ ” Reese said when asked what he was told at Cypress Bay. “But we proved them wrong.
“What we’ve done this year means a lot more to me than last year [at Cypress Bay] because no one thought we could do this. At Cypress Bay, if you win, you are expected to do that, and if you lose, you are horrible in the eyes of the students and teachers.”
Martin, McCarthy’s 31-year-old coach, played Division I soccer at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. He then came back home to Miami and served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Southwest, as well as Gulliver.
He took the past two years off from coaching while he ran his personal-training business.
But when he got the job at McCarthy, which had not won a regional game since 2006, he saw potential.
“In one of our first meetings, he said that we needed to improve, but, if we did, he expected us to get to state this year,” said senior goalie Nico Zedan, who is in his fourth year with the team. “I was surprised and excited.”
Martin has proven prophetic, and Reese and Zedan have taken turns as McCarthy heroes:
• Against Doral in the regional quarterfinals: McCarthy trailed 2-1 until Reese scored on a miracle kick from 45 yards out. It was the last kick of regulation, and it beat the goalie to the top left corner of the net.
The game went to penalty kicks, and McCarthy won 4-2 as Zedan got his hands on all four of Doral’s shots, stopping two of them.
• Next up was American Heritage, which had never lost to McCarthy. Heritage made it to the state final last year and had just routed McCarthy 4-1 in the district final.
But Zedan was huge, earning a 0-0 tie through regulation and 20 minutes of overtime. He then again stopped two penalty kicks for the win.
Zedan said the key to stopping penalty kicks is “confidence, reading the shooter” and picking a side.
“I have a fantastic goalie,” Martin said of Zedan. “That win over Heritage was probably the most excitement we’ve ever had here in the soccer program.”
Perhaps, but McCarthy had more work to do. Zedan got another shutout in the regional final against Naples’ Golden Gate, and Reese scored in the 30th minute to give the Mavs a 1-0 win and a coveted ticket to state.
“It’s awesome,” Zedan said. “Three of my best friends have won state titles in baseball [at McCarthy]. Now, we get to find out what it’s like to get to state.”