RALEIGH — In the Triangle Town Center parking lot outside of Dick’s Sporting Goods, two high school boys soccer coaches struck up a conversation that turned into a bit of a summer daydream.
Other counties have tournaments where all of its schools play for county pride, but not Wake County. Unfortunately, it is too big to be as all-inclusive.
But Cardinal Gibbons’ Tim Healy and Heritage’s Scott Sloan – with help from Sanderson coach Todd Worley – developed a format to bring the top teams together for a month-long tournament.
The inaugural Wake County Cup wraps up Sept. 14 at Cardinal Gibbons when Apex plays Sanderson for the title at 8 p.m., in the third game of a triple header.
“The success is going to be (measured) that last day,” Sloan said. “That’s the crown jewel. We have three games back to back, everybody’s playing for something. We’re really looking forward to that one.”
Most high school soccer invitationals are played in a week, but the Wake Cup is spread out and is played at different sites. Sanderson, Heritage and Gibbons hosted games this year.
“The format still lets you create that non-conference schedule the way you want,” Sloan said. “I like the fact it’s more like group play where you see an opponent and then you don’t see another (Cup) opponent for another week.”
In the coming years, qualifying for the tournament will be similar to the formula used in the UEFA Champions League and other professional soccer competitions.
The Cap Eight and Southwest Wake 4A champions and the defending Cup champion will receive automatic bids into the following year’s Cup. The runners-up in those conferences also probably will get bids.
Wake County teams that are not in the Southwest or the Cap Eight, including traditional public, private and charter schools, can earn berths with high finishes in their conferences.
“It’s something where you have to earn it from one year to the next,” Healy said. “That’s the one thing high school sports don’t have – a carry-over. Whatever you did last year is done and it doesn’t matter. Which is fine. But it’s kind of nice for the underclassmen coming up to say ‘Next year we’re going to play in it.’”
The tournament had six teams this year, but expects to have eight teams next year.
Franklin Academy, a 1A state semifinalist in 2012, initially considered declining, but the players wanted their chance to test themselves against 4A teams.
Apex won Group A with a 3-0 win against Heritage and a 9-0 win against Franklin Academy.
Sanderson won Group B with extra-time wins against Garner (4-3) and Gibbons (2-1).
The Wake County Cup champion will receive a plaque to keep and a Cup to display until the next champion is crowned.
The biggest positive of the tournament, said Worley, is making regular-season soccer games an event.
“There’s something on the line, and everyone wants to play for it,” Healy said.
“I think everyone’s going to come away from it very positively. And I think it’s going to hopefully build a little momentum for next year, have people get excited and want to participate.”
A good-sized crowd attended Sanderson’s win over Gibbons on Monday night.
“They brought a great crowd because not only were they playing Gibbons, but because (they knew) if they win they were in the championship,” Healy said.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps