Every workout in September and October ended with this powerful four word statement.
“Do it for state.”
No matter how draining or mundane the workout, no player on the Byron Nelson boys soccer team wanted to accept “good enough.”
Sure, every team in every sport talks about winning state. But it’s another thing to live it. Turns out the Bobcats did, and they have the hardware to prove it. The 2-1 victory over Pharr Valley View in the Class 4A state championship game last Saturday gave the Nelson boys soccer program its first in school annals. Not too bad for a program that just finished playing its fourth year of varsity soccer.
“We made sure we were giving it our all last fall,” senior forward Devin Porter said. “We just wanted to have that mindset as soon as we got started. We lived it because it wasn’t just the coaches pushing us, it was us pushing each other. If someone was slacking, we would get on them because there was something bigger.”
It doesn’t matter the sport. State championship teams evolve because they are solid defensively, possess great senior leadership and are driven by something internal.
The 2014 Bobcats had all of that. They won 28 of 31 games (the final record was 28-1-2) and allowed only 15 goals. Their defense was led by junior goalie Chase Therrien, who anyone would tell you was about as stingy as they came.
This team’s backbone was formed by senior center midfielder Ryan Dandan and Porter. Dandan was named a team captain. Porter wasn’t a captain, but carried that presence that other players could turn to for any reason.
The fuel for this state championship run started in early April 2013. A heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Wichita Falls Rider in the Region I sectional round stayed with every returning member of that team. To a man, Nelson felt like it probably should have won that game.
“We were really disappointed,” said Dandan, who will be playing collegiately for the Coast Guard Academy. “We just had it in our mindset that we were going to work and play to the high standard that was already here.”
Certain points of the season revealed that this team probably really did have the makeup to reach Easter weekend in Georgetown. It went 4-1 against Class 5A teams, including 3-0 against Round Rock schools. “We used to get crushed by those Round Rock teams,” Dandan said.
Nelson then clinched the District 11-4A championship with three games to play. But this year’s sectional playoff against Wichita Falls gave the program a chance to exhale. Nelson survived a difficult game, 2-1, as it won in the shootout 5-4.
And this team just had a sense of knowing what to do and when to do it. As it prepared to play old nemesis Frisco Wakeland in the state semifinals – a team it had beaten in the White Settlement Brewer tournament on penalty kicks in the past two years – players came to head coach Howard Putter and said they wanted to work on penalty kicks again because they figured this game would come down to it.
They were right. They were prepared. And they won, 2-1, as junior Hunter McGuire delivered the game clinching penalty kick.
“These have been such even games, that it was going to be hard for someone to break through,” Porter said. “Those things are always tough, but we were comfortable with them, too.”
Saturday’s state championship became a validation why those workouts in the fall were meant to be demanding. When everybody wants the same things out of something and commits to it, winning a championship becomes more than a goal. It becomes reality.
“It’s still surreal,” Dandan said. “It’s really hard to put into words what it means. The chances of winning a state championship are miniscule. But our hard work and dedication put us in this position.”