Fans charged the field, coaches pumped fists and parents hugged sons after Jesuit defeated Immokalee on penalty kicks last week in the region final. But one can say with a good bit of certainty that during the celebration, each of the Tigers' 11 seniors also let out a deep sigh of relief.
"That was a lot of weight off their shoulders," Jesuit coach Bob Bauman said.
That's because the tradition-rich Tigers, owners of six state championships, had not been to the final four since 2001. And for Jesuit, which advanced to 11 of them in Bauman's first 14 seasons, that was a drought. Since Bauman became coach in 1988, last year's senior class was the only one that failed to reach the state semifinals at least once.
"There was a lot of pressure," senior midfielder Michael Gillman said. "We didn't want to graduate as a class that never won anything."
For the Tigers (24-4-1), who face Jensen Beach (20-2) in a Class 4A semifinal Friday at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium, state championships once were the norm. From 1995-2001, they claimed five of them and placed second twice. The 2001 squad not only won the 2A title, but was named national champion.
Since then, things haven't been the same. A few Jesuit teams had costly injuries and others a few bad draws. But Bauman said the biggest issues involved attitude and desire.
"After 2001, there were a lot of guys who thought just because they put on the blue and white jersey they'd automatically make the final four," Bauman said.
This squad didn't feel that way. After the Tigers failed to make the playoffs last season, the returning seniors took it upon themselves to provide the focus and leadership they thought had been missing. And because most had played together for several years, a strong chemistry developed.
"You can have all the talent in the world, but without leadership and heart, you're not going to get anywhere," senior defender Kory Sprehe said.
This group of seniors appears to have all of the above. Six to eight will start any given game. And among them, one finds several of the most prominent players, including top scorer Kyle Sierra.
"Up and down the lineup seniors have been the core," Bauman said.
For much of the season, this senior class wondered what its legacy would be. Now, one major barrier is gone, but two more await.
"There's actually a little sense of relief," Gillman said. "All the pressure is behind us. Now we can just play soccer."
JESUIT: MEET THE TEAM
NAME POS. YR. Comment
Santi Alexis MF Jr. Among leaders in goals, assists
Michael Gillman MF Sr. Aggressive; dangerous on
Alex McCormack D Sr. Had best game in region final
Tim Miller MF Sr. Three-year starter, assists
Justin Morris GK Jr. 12 shutouts; 0.50 GA
Kyle Piecora D Sr. Handles long-ball play
Nick Plasencia F Sr. Big target, solid finisher
Cameron Poklemba MF Jr. Strong defensive marker
Kyle Sierra F Sr. Top scorer with 16 goals
Wes Sima MF Sr. Solid in center or on the wing
Kory Sprehe D Sr. Solid marker who can score
Hunter Clasen D Jr. Tall, fast, smart defender
David Dunnigan F Sr. Hard-working player is grinder
Bennett Singletary MF Sr. Great speed, strong defender
- KEITH NIEBUHR, Times staff writer