I coached varsity basketball at Trinity Prep for three years. Every summer we would play at various team camps to gain experience. The experience consisted largely of beating bad teams and getting beat by good teams. These camps would have a tournament on the final day, and without exception we would play a game or two and go home without the vaguest idea of who might have won the tournament.
In the summer of 2005, I was coaching at Winter Park, and we took our team to Gainesville for team camp, a three day basketball orgy culminating in a tournament on Sunday. We arrived mid afternoon Friday and drilled two teams before hitting the sack. At the hotel that night, Matt Hixenbaugh and I agreed that it was nice to play two weaker teams to get going. On Saturday, we went 3-1 only losing a game that we purposely finished with bench guys to see how they would respond to adversity. At this point, we felt where were the good teams? It felt like we hadn’t played any.
On Sunday we won 4 in a row by over 20 to reach the final four, and came to the realization….shit we might be pretty good. Exhausted, but determined we won two incredible games to be Team Camp Champs. It was the beginning of a season that would end as State Final runner-ups. It was an experience that led me to see tournaments as something not just to participate in, but to win.
This weekend the FC America U-14 Sharks played the Disney Preseason Classic under new coach Alan Hough. Our team was selected in June, but until two practices this week existed on paper and not on the field. On paper, it was a formidable group of talented players, but as Sir Alex Ferguson says, “You can’t escape the field.” This weekend the team demonstrated what it can do on the field: 5 wins, 30 goals for, 3 against and 1 title.
We opened Friday night against Orlando City’s second team. From minute one we played at a lightning pace physically and more impressive mentally. We led 3-0 at half, survived a lull and goal at the start of the second half and won going away 7-1. Ruthless was the most apt description of our play.
On Saturday morning we opened against Wellington beneath a blue gray october sky. Two goals in 15 minutes before the blue gray sky gave way to a deluge of rain and several hour weather delay. It’s always a challenge to handle delays during a tournament weekend without losing a competitive edge. The game was suspended and the first half would be completed later in the day.
We took the field against MGU @ 3:30. MGU “parked the bus” in front of goal, and did not cross midfield with the ball through the first fifteen minutes. We possessed the ball, and kept pressure on MGU with no discernible sign of frustration. Midway through the half Austin D’anna broke the deadlock, and on the final kick of the half doubled the lead. The boy’s broke the game open in the second half and won 7-0.
The team sat around 30 minutes waiting for Wellington to walk over to our field and finish the first half. Every player was tired, many were nursing injuries and the prevailing sentiment was to stroke the ball around for the remaining eighteen minutes and prepare for tomorrow. Instead, the squad jumped on Wellington like Mike Tyson before Robin Givens scoring two qoals then coasting home 4-0.
This morning we played Jacksonville in the semi-final, who had yet to concede a goal in the tournament. The gave up 6 by half-time. It was scintillating football. As the tally ran to 9-2, I couldn’t help, but think how ridiculous it was to win a semi-final with that type of score line.
In the final, we played the Florida Rush, upset, over-time winners over Orlando City’s first team. The rush were well-organized and competitive. The game was scoreless through 60 minutes. I was impressed that we did not give into the frustration of not scoring for such a long spell or the pressure of a final, but kept attacking, defending and fighting as one. With about ten minutes left, Randall Congreaves, who had played sparingly with a groin injury, drove to the end line and chipped a cross to John Rivera for a headed goal. Five minutes later, Mikey Lynch and Bryson Pink pressed the Rush in the attacking third and won the ball. Bryson fed Rivera at the top of the box, and he scored. Game over at 2-0.
A brilliant start. Every player on the roster made a significant contribution to the whole. They hold in their collective hands the key to their future. If they avoid complacency and selfishness, they will enjoy a journey of success, memories and friendship for a lifetime.
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