Winning a state title isn’t easy, and winning back-to-back titles is much, much harder.
Just ask ACA head soccer coach Terry Hughes, whose team accomplished the back-to-back championship journey over the weekend with a 3-2 overtime thriller against Coastal Christian Academy.
“Winning the first one was easy compared to this year,” said Hughes. “We always got our opponents best shot, so winning again is just a great accomplishment for this team.”
The Lions entered the championship match as the underdog, having lost to the top-seeded Centurions from Coastal Christian Academy earlier in the year. Coastal handed the Lions their worst loss of the regular season and opened up the first half of play in the finals imposing their will on the team from Swannanoa.
In that first half, the Centurions had seven strong scoring opportunities, netting their first goal at the 28th-minute mark. The Lions were on their heels for the first 40 minutes, producing only one scoring opportunity and heading to the half trailing 1-0.
“We had to revaluate how we attacked them,” said Hughes. “What we were doing simply wasn't working. At the half, we switched our line-up around, putting two of our seniors, Coleman Compton and Max Hill, at the top. And things changed almost immediately.”
The Lions came up with two great scoring opportunities in the opening minute of the second half. In the 53rd minute, Compton leveled the score with the Lions’ first goal. The match moved into overtime tied 1-1. Coastal once again took the lead just three minutes into the first overtime period. But ACA freshman Reece Collie knotted the score again in the 89th minute.
The score was tied 2-2 as the match moved into sudden death. “My staff was talking about our penalty kick line-up as the sudden death period began,” said Hughes. “I told them we might as well win it now. And then it happened.”
One minute into sudden death, senior Logan Whalen played a long ball up to the front line. Compton flicked the ball off his head towards Hill. The ball slipped past the Coastal keeper, and Hill was there to blast the ball into the open net, giving the Lions their second state title in as many years.
“It didn't sink in that we had won right after I scored,” Hill said, “but once I saw everyone running towards me I knew we had done it again.”
The six ACA seniors - Hill, Compton, Whalen, Max Gompers, Will Sabo and Josh Perryman - have been together for a long time. Many of them started kindergarten at ACA together 13 years ago. They have developed a special bond.
“They truly are a band of brothers,” said head coach Terry Hughes. “They have been together forever. They have grown together. A state championship won't define their relationship with one another, but it’s something they will always be able to share.”
“It's very emotional winning with these guys,” Hill said. “I wouldn’t want to win a state championship with anyone else.