St. David’s boys soccer team capped off an improbable and wild week with a state championship.
First, the Warriors knocked off nationally ranked Fayetteville Academy 2-1 Friday in the semifinals. Then they defeated No. 2 seed and also-undefeated and untied Gaston Day 1-0 in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A championship Saturday afternoon.
“It’s been a wild year,” St. David’s coach Jose Cornejo said.
“Ten games ago if you had told me we would be here (state finals) and win, I would have said, ‘No way. Extremely difficult,’ the make-up of the team was 10 sophomores, young guys. We were all over the place. Our schedule was very tough, and we struggled for a little bit,” Cornejo said.
“But then I have four seniors that are incredible leaders. Then I guess everyone bought into what we wanted to do. Then we started not only winning but playing well, and became a team,” Cornejo said.
The “aha” moment of clarity and team cohesion came after a five-game losing streak.
“We were playing Trinity (School) of Durham, but we were playing really well, and I knew they had all clicked and there was going to be a turnaround. I think they realized they were a talented bunch, and they could take that talent somewhere,” Cornejo said.
The culmination of the talent was a 13-8-1 team that defeated a 23-0 Gaston Day at the St. David’s satellite athletic fields Saturday afternoon.
The proving moment was a left-footed kick by Jack Hensley into the back of the net with 25 minutes left in the second half.
Sophomore Witt Conger brought the ball down the left side of the field and was able to turn the corner on the defender. Conger drove to the front of the goal and tried to split two closing defenders. The three went down like bowling pins, but the ball caromed around the crowded box and found its way to Hensley who deposited it into the net for the game’s only score.
“I saw Witt driving and I headed toward the goal,” Hensley said. “I was a little bit surprised it deflected the way it did,” Hensley added.
After the goal, St. David’s played a less aggressive but smarter game.
Gaston Day had several late chances but the senior-backed defense stood up to the charge. The best opportunity for Gaston Day to tie it was with 3:35 remaining when Kjell Bruegge’s line-drive shot found its way on net, but Nick Hogan was there to make the saving catch above his head. However, the ball slipped through his gloves and fell behind him. Hogan was able to recover and gather the loose ball before it trickled across the goal line.
St. David’s played a possession-control type game and relied on its defense to deny Gaston Day chances.
“St. David’s played with numbers behind the ball, and it was very difficult to get behind them,” Gaston Day coach Greg Lekavich said.
When the clock expired, a horde of St. David’s students and fans stormed the field.
“It feels incredible. I’m so proud of this team,” Cornejo said.