4 programs win first FHSAA boys soccer state championships in DeLand

By Official Florida FC

Panama City Beach Arnold did what it has done all season long — take advantage of set pieces.

The Marlins won the FHSAA Class 4A state championship on Friday afternoon over reigning champions Miami Gulliver Prep to claim Bay County’s first boys soccer state title. Arnold’s 2-0 win capped off a 25-0-2 season for the Marlins.

Senior center back Michael Sears opened the scoring in the 10th minute on a header from classmate Dawson Miller’s corner kick. Zach Bischoff’s 65th minute goal sealed the deal for the Marlins.

Arnold had conceded 14 goals in their previous 26 matches, there was little chance the Marlins, led by six seniors, were going to throw away a two goal lead in 15 minutes.

Arnold midfielder Tristan Gandy was a four-year starter. Miller and Bischoff were four-year members of the varsity. Meanwhile, forward Ernie Castellanos, right back Jay Marino and Sears were part of a senior class that went 76-13-4 with a state championship and a pair of regional titles.

Arnold was not the only team to break through at the FHSAA boys soccer championships in DeLand.


Tampa Catholic 4, Westminster Christian 2

Tampa Catholic conceded the opening goal for the second straight state final. This time, the Crusaders were able to overcome the early wobble and claim the program’s first FHSAA state championship.

Marcello Valbuena’s 29th minute goal came seconds after Westminster Christian senior Matias Gutierrez opened the scoring. The senior’s brace were his 35th and 36th goals of the season. Tampa Catholic scored four unanswered goals, including a 38th minute goal from senior Jack O’Leary and a 50th minute penalty kick from senior Jacob Spengler to take control of the final.

“I thought that was definitely the turning point,” said eighth-year Westminster Christian coach Josh Kirk told the Miami Herald afterward. “We had a little lapse in concentration and that swung the game. Over the next 10 minutes the momentum shifted and we never got it back until it was too late.”

Westminster Christian was making its deepest playoff run in nine years. However, the Warriors ran into a team whose motto was “Energy and Effort” after losing to University School in the 2020 state final.

For Tampa Catholic, Thursday’s win was the Crusaders’ first state championship in their fifth appearance in the final. Head coach Kevin McCarron was on the touchline for the losses in the 2016 and 2020 final and a player at Tampa Catholic when the school started the program in the late 1970s. This time, the Crusaders wouldn’t be denied.


Canterbury 4, St. Johns Country Day 0

Fort Myers Canterbury (21-3-1) won its first winter-season state championship with a resounding victory over Orange Park St. Johns Country Day. Both programs were making their first appearance in the FHSAA winter-season state final, but it was the Cougars who seized their opportunity.

Sophomore Riley Johnson opened the scoring in the 38th minute. Shortly after halftime, Sam Schoensee scored the first of his two goals from the penalty spot to give the program coached by his father, Kevin, an advantage. Johnson and Schoensee both added a second to vault the Cougars to their first FHSAA boys soccer title in 18 years.

Don’t be surprised if the Cougars make another run at a title. Nine of the starting XI in Thursday’s final are juniors.


Doral 2, Niceville 1

One way or another, history was going to be made in the Class 6A final.

Either Niceville would become the ninth public school — and first from the panhandle — to repeat as FHSAA boys soccer champion, or Miami Doral Academy head coach Pamela McDonald would become the first woman to lead a program to a boys title.

The pendulum swung both ways in the final; but, it was Doral Academy who hoisted the state championship. Manuel Calvo’s 76th minute goal helped the Firebirds (11-1-3) cap off a season of adversity with the ultimate prize.

Doral Academy and Niceville were two of the best teams in Class 6A in 2020. Niceville capped off its undefeated season with a 25-0-2 record and the state championship. Meanwhile, Doral was upset in the regional final.

This year, Doral overcame multiple games canceled by the Covid-19 pandemic, injuries, suspensions and multiple starters eschewing high school soccer for club soccer.


Belen Jesuit 2, Tampa Jesuit 1

The first all-Jesuit clash in the soccer playoffs was worth the wait.

Stefano Naos’ overtime goal helped Miami Belen Jesuit win its second FHSAA boys soccer title. The Wolverines (18-3-1) ended the reign of their Jesuit brothers from Tampa. The Tigers (17-2-2) were aiming for their second consecutive state championship, and eighth in program history.

Belen Jesuit had five games canceled because of Covid-19 concerns. But, the games the Wolverines did play, which featured four state finalists, prepared them to face one of the best programs in the stata.

Belen’s last two games of the 2020 calendar year, and first game of 2021 were all against future state finalists. The Wolverines tied eventual Class 6A state champion Doral Academy on Dec. 11, defeated eventual Class 2A state champion Fort Myers Cantebury 2-1 on Dec. 22 and lost to Class 7A state finalist Tampa Plant on Jan. 8.


Gulf Coast 1, Plant 0

Naples Gulf Coast (20-3-2) won its third FHSAA state championship since 2013.

Leading scorer Marcello Maffei scored an 87th minute overtime goal to cap off a turnaround season for the Sharks. Gulf Coast limped home to a 6-9-5 record in 2020 and was eliminated in the District 13-7A tournament.

Noah Nassberg’s team-leading 14th assist set up Maffei’s goal. Junior goalie Henry Lewis made a pair of point-blank saves in the second overtime to help the Sharks hold on.

The Sharks’ win was the first for second-year head coach Bryan Billingsley. Alan Scott led Gulf Coast to its first two championships in 2013 and 2018, but became the school’s athletic director ahead of the 2019-20 school year. Scott hired his former assistant, who had been with the program for 15 years, to take over a program that has made four appearances in the state final in the last decade.

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