Anthony Cipollone and his Charleston Catholic teammates will try for their fifth straight Class AA-A boys championship when the state soccer tournament opens today in Beckley.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Charleston Catholic boys soccer team began the season, expectations were high as always.That'll happen when you're the four-time defending state champion, but the Fighting Irish struggled at times to find their identity.Top-ranked Catholic, though, finds itself where it always thought it would be, aiming for a fifth straight AA boys title when it takes on No. 3 East Fairmont at 4:30 p.m. today in the state tournament semifinals at Carter Field at the YMCA Youth Sports Complex in Beckley.It's been a sometimes bumpy ride for the Irish, who graduated three of their top four goal scorers and starting keeper from last year's team and broke in first-year coach Domenic Cipollone this season.Catholic saw its 64-match unbeaten streak end and the Irish suffered three losses, including back-to-back defeats, which hadn't occurred since 2008."I did have expectations,'' said Cipollone. "I know other people didn't, but I did. I thought [our players] had the skills, they just had to come together as a team.''It took time, but Catholic found its leaders. Sophomore Joey Trupo has a team-high 33 goals while junior Roger Burdette (14) and sophomore Anthony Cipollone (11) have shouldered some of the scoring pressure. Irish junior keeper and first-time varsity starter Patrick Kline has developed throughout the year."I don't think they expected to be as good as last year's team,'' said Domenic Cipollone. "We're not, but we're competitive. We're there with anybody.''
The undefeatedGeorge Washington is one of only two teams in the two-division, 16-team state tournament without a loss.The Patriots, who finished the regular season No. 1 in AAA boys, will play No. 10 Jefferson at approximately noon in the semis at Cline Field.GW and Sissonville in AA-A girls are the only squads to not have tasted defeat this season. The Patriots also went the first 11 games without allowing a goal."I think that was more of a weight,'' GW veteran coach Tom Hopper said of the shutout streak. "I could sense pressure from that. Being undefeated is a nice luxury. We've found a way to win ballgames in the past we might not have been able to do.''
GW edged defending state champion Hurricane 1-0, took a 2-1 win at Parkersburg, last year's state runner-up, and a 1-0 win at Wheeling Park. The Patriots also had a pair of 1-1 ties with Charleston Catholic and Parkersburg."If you'd ask me at the beginning of the season I would have thought we would have had some speed bumps,'' Hopper said. "We've played some really solid clubs and we've been able to score and our defense has kept things in check. The stars aligned for us.''
Senior Drew Davis (20 goals), Daniel Glines (13) and Noah Miller (12) have carried the load while senior all-state goalie Garrett Phillips has been a brick wall in net."When we started back in August we knew we had more talent than we've had in a long time across the board,'' said Hopper, who guided GW to state titles in 2007 and 2011. "The team that we put out there is pretty much solid all the way through.''The payoffIt's hard to figure out why one team advances and another doesn't in the postseason."This group is very special,'' said Sissonville girls coach Ali Sadeghian. "They're more determined and dedicated and work harder. That's the difference compared to the teams we've had in the past. They have a nice chemistry together.''The Indians have parlayed those intangibles into their first trip to states since 2011. Top-ranked Sissonville will square off with No. 3 and 2012 state runner-up Fairmont Senior at 9:30 a.m. today in AA-A girls, kicking off the state tourney semifinals at Carter Field.
Prior to this year, Sissonville lost to Catholic in regional play four of the past five years. The Indians fell to Grafton 2-0 in the 2011 title game when they also entered states with the top ranking.Sophomores Madison Jones and Karli Pinkerton lead Sissonville's attack with 38 goals apiece. Senior Mary Schmeck has contributed 15 goals and junior Taylor Rhodes 11. Sophomore Brooke Reed is one of the most athletic keepers around."They've been playing other sports together through middle school,'' said Sadeghian. "They're very close. It's created a bond among the majority of the team. The work ethic is by far the best we've had. They will just not quit.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.