Celebration’s boys soccer team advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals last year.
The Storm had to replace a few key contributors due to graduation, but the this year’s team, as Coach Chad Boudreaux puts it, is united in going further, taking the next step of getting to the state championship in DeLand, and winning it.
The Storm looks like a team poised to do it. They’re 9-1-2 after a series of 4-0 victories over St. Cloud, Tohopekaliga and Osceola, the latter on Tuesday, and a 3-0 win over Harmony Thursday that counted in both the District 5A-9 and Orange Belt Conference standings. Celebration was the No. 1 seed last year en route to the 5A-9 title, and has rolled undefeated through the OBC the last two seasons.
The early part of the schedule was loaded with strong teams from other parts of the area, including Cypress Creek, Lake Mary, Olympia (who the only loss came to; the Titans are 7-1 themselves), a tie against nationally-ranked Montverde Academy and playoff teams Freedom and Vero Beach from a year ago.
In Tuesday’s match at Osceola (2-6-1), the Storm got two goals apiece from Luis Mora and Nick Romano, the latter who headed in Mora’s crossing pass eight minutes into the match to open the scoring. The lead was 3-0 at the half, and Mora added a penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, but Boudreaux was more concerned with how the scoring stopped later in the match, imploring his team to not let the Kowboys back in it.
“It’s the mental lapses we have when we get up big, we dominate and then put it on autopilot and do things we shouldn’t, like taking bad penalties and accumulating (yellow) cards,” he said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work and play a lot of tough teams. These 4-0 games have been battles, they sit back and won’t let us score again to put them away, which we have to learn to do.”
Boudreaux had to re-work the lineup to replace leading scorer Anti Antunez, who graduated, and goalie Alex Buttery, who moved to England, as well as key role players in the midfield, but added pieces like Romano and midfielder Fernando Abreu (team leader with nine assists), and continues to run the attack through center midfielder Matook Machado, last year’s county Player of the Year.
The defense, which saw Oscar Newman step up as a freshman last year, is bolstered by Bruno Correa, Jose Larroche and Samuel Carcaioli.
“It’s working. We lost some of the firepower from last year, but our defense is real solid, we just need to go forward on offense,” Boudreaux said.
The district tournaments don’t even begin for another six weeks, but Boudreaux said his team is locked in on the mission ahead, with four key District 5A-9 matches to start 2019, including a Jan. 11 home match against George Jenkins, who is also undefeated against district foes this season.
“They’re hungry. We talked the other day and the boys said their goal was to be a state champion,” he said. “I told them they had to figure out how to accomplish that, and in the practice after that balls were flying around, it was fantastic to see.”
That Jenkins game culminates a stretch of three district matches in four nights when the team returns from the winter break. The Storm travel to Ridge on Jan. 8 and host Haines City the next night.
Celebration played Harmony Thursday night after the deadline for this edition. The Longhorns were 3-6 going in, but those wins came against OBC foes Liberty, Gateway and Tohopekaliga, with a loss to Osceola, to sit second to Celebration in the conference standings.