Hoping a third time is the charm, an experienced Porter-Gaud boys soccer team has its sights set on a third consecutive trip to the SCISA AAA state finals.
The previous two appearances in the championship game ended in similar fashion — both 2-1 defeats to Cardinal-Newman. Last year’s loss was perhaps the toughest to swallow as the Cyclones lost in a penalty-kick shootout.
After the heartbreaking defeat last May, Porter-Gaud coach Juan Roncancio emphatically predicted his team would be back in the finals a year later. Now his veteran team, with 19 of 21 players being juniors and seniors, are working hard to make their coach’s prediction come true.
“All of our focus this year is getting another opportunity,” said Roncancio, now in his third season as the team’s head coach. “The last two years have been very disappointing because we felt like we had a chance to win both times. We certainly felt like we had a team good enough to win, but that’s soccer. Sometimes good teams play well and still lose. We’re hoping for a different outcome this season.”
So far, so good for the Cyclones. Against a very competitive schedule, Porter-Gaud has posted a 7-3 record with a few preseason ties as well. Porter-Gaud has played perennial Class AAAA powers Wando and River Bluff, AAA public school A.C. Flora, AA power Bishop England, and will take on perennial public school AA title contender Academic Magnet on Monday.
“We are fortunate here in the Lowcountry to have some really good soccer programs, and I feel the only way to truly test yourself and improve is against the best competition,” Roncancio said. “This team is competing very well so far. They are playing very hard and determined.”
Most of this year’s roster, which includes 10 seniors, have been on the last two teams that came up short. Senior leadership from the likes of defender Harris Krogh, keeper Gettys Moore and forward Cameron Ward keeps the team focused and on track.
Juniors Will Mooney, Sanders Hughes and Coleman Smith are among a strong group of underclassmen who also have been in the program for three years or more. Roncancio feels the team’s overall level of experience is going to make a difference come playoff time.
“We’re a confident team because we are an experienced team,” the coach said. “Anytime you have a team full of players who have played in very big matches and have grown together as a group, the confidence level is going to be high. The team chemistry is very good. There is no selfishness. Week to week this team has to send a message that we are a strong team and we are determined to earn another chance at the ultimate prize.”
Though Cardinal-Newman suffered an upset loss to Hammond earlier this season, the feeling is that this year’s finals will be a third meeting of the two powerhouses. Roncancio has not discussed a potential finals matchup with his team because they too have their own intermediate goals to accomplish and cannot afford to look ahead.
“We can’t play for a state championship until we take care of what’s directly in front of us,” Roncancio said. “We have to win during the regular season and try to be the top seed, which let us play at home. We have to finish strong, continue to improve, and hopefully remain healthy. We’re not looking too far ahead, though I’m sure it’s in the back of our players’ minds as we continue to get closer to the playoffs.”