Scheck Hillel Community School will be closed Wednesday.
It’s not a national holiday.
It’s not a religious holiday.
It’s the Hillel boys’ soccer team driving up to Melbourne for the Class 1A state semifinals, taking roughly 600 classmates with it.
Never miss a local story.
“We’re not like St. Thomas Aquinas or Gulliver or these schools who are good in a lot of sports,” Hillel soccer coach Ben Magidson said. “We’re not very strong in other sports, so let’s get behind this. Let’s have fun.”
Before last season, Hillel had never made it past the regional semifinals – in any sport. Hillel got to the state final before, losing 1-0 to Tampa Prep.
This year, Tampa Prep, the two-time defending state champion, is out of the picture, having moved up to 2A and losing in the district round.
Hillel (18-2) will play Orlando’s First Academy (21-0-1) at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
First Academy never had won a regional match before this season, and the other semifinalists – Lake Worth’s Trinity Christian and Bradenton’s Saint Stephen Episcopal – don’t have much history, either.
In fact, Hillel is the only one of the four 1A teams who made it to state last year, which could make the North Miami Beach school a favorite, especially considering that all 11 starters return.
Magidson, though, is not quite ready to use that label.
“Our tradition [as a soccer power] is only 12 months old,” he said. “We can’t say we’re the favorites until we win this.”
Winning will be harder without star midfielder Aaron Franco, who picked up two yellow cards – for rough play and unsportsmanlike conduct – in the regional final and will have to sit out the rest of the state tournament.
Hillel will rely on leading scorers Julian Ribak (26 goals) and Daniel Furmanski (23 goals). Sophomore goalie Alan Landau, who at age 15 is already a two-year starter with two trips to state, leads the defense with 14 shutouts.
The enemy for Hillel is complacency, which Magidson said was a problem in the regional final after his team took a 2-0 lead on Sagemont and held on to win 3-1.
“Last year, we survived by the hairs on our chinny chin chin,” he said. “This year, we walked on the field with confidence. We only played one bad half [Sagemont] through the whole playoffs.”
GULLIVER BACK AGAIN
In a Class 2A state semifinal, Gulliver Prep (20-1-1) plays Pensacola Catholic (20-6) Wednesday at 3 p.m. Pensacola is led by 44-goal scorer William Keegan.
Besides Hillel and Gulliver, two other boys’ soccer teams from Miami-Dade and Broward have made it to the state tournament – first-timers Columbus and Archbishop McCarthy.
In Class 5A, Columbus play Oviedo Friday at 3 p.m. The winner gets either Tarpon Spring’s East Lake or Boca Raton.
In Class 3A, Archbishop McCarthy plays Choctawhatchee on Thursday at 10 a.m. The winner gets either Sunlake or Merritt Island.
Before this season, Columbus and McCarthy had each won only one regional game in their programs’ histories.
Gulliver, meanwhile, has won four state titles, most recently in 2006. Gulliver’s opponent on Wednesday has made it to the regional finals six years in a row but this is its first trip to state since 1998. The school is still seeking its first state title.
Last week, Pensacola Catholic beat Jacksonville Bolles 1-0. Bolles is the team that beat Gulliver in the 2013 state final 1-0.
If Gulliver survives on Wednesday, it would get either Tampa Berkeley Prep, which has won four state titles but none since 2004, or Orlando’s Bishop Moore, which has won four state titles but none since 2000.
Gulliver is led by junior forward Adriano Castro, who has 16 goals. Matias Asorey, Gulliver’s second-year coach, already has made it to state twice.