The Steinbrenner boys soccer team watched from the stands last season as its counterpart won the Class 4A girls state championship.
This year, the boys squad is using that memory as a motivating tool to make a little history of its own.
“It hurt, that should have been us,” said junior Enrique Barboto. “I feel like we should have also won (states), we should have been up there with them. Everyone makes mistakes and you got to learn from them and keep working to have a chance this year.”
The Warriors (10-2-1) went through a roller coaster ride last season, compiling a 15-5-2 record including a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Jesuit in the district finals and 2-1 loss to Lakewood Ranch in the regional semifinals.
This year, coach Chad Ebright tweaked the playbook and moved many of his players to different positions in order to put them in the best spot to accomplish their goal of winning a state title of their own.
“Every year (our) expectation should be to win the state championship,” said Ebright, the only coach in program
history. “That’s what our goal is every year and that’s what we want to achieve.”
Ebright moved the defenders to the forward and midfield positions as part of the playbook shuffle. Barboto, a defender last season and now a midfielder, said the switch is giving Steinbrenner more opportunities to score.
“We have our positives and negatives,” Barboto said. “We possess (the ball) a lot more than we did last year, and I feel like little switch ups here and there have made a big difference.”
The move appears to have paid off through the first few months this season. The Warriors have shown they can compete on a consistent basis this season, with its only blemish a tie against nondistrict opponent Wharton to open the year.
The Warriors have already beaten Class 4A-District 8 rivals Sickles and Gaither, which both made the playoffs a season ago. Junior Logan Siben said that, despite the important district wins, it’s still a work in progress, and nothing is going to be handed to them when the district tournament rolls around.
“Our goal is just to keep winning and hopefully move on to win districts, regionals and states,” Siben said.
The 4-1 victory at Gaither on Dec. 6 was even more important for Steinbrenner’s mental state as it had lost the previous two games between the two programs and the Cowboys made the state final four in 2010-11.
“(Gaither) had beaten us the last two years and (they had the mindset that) they knew they could beat us, but we showed what we’re made of,” Barboto said.
Siben, who has been one of the team’s top scorers this year, is coming off a season derailed by a torn MCL in his left knee. He said while the injury took months to heal, his training and work ethic has helped him recover and return to form.
“I was out for about two and a half, three months and me and (Barboto) trained everyday and practiced my shooting,” Siben said. “Since then I’ve been keeping in shape and trying to get back to where I was (before the injury).”
The Warriors have their host of star power across the board. Along with Barboto and Siben is senior and team captain Conner Fleming, who was named to the All-Western Conference American Division first-team last year. Siben said their depth and new positions have them geared up to match the girls’ 2010-11 success this season.
“I personally believe as a team we can achieve that,” Siben said. “We can get a state title, and we can do it this year and next year.”
Barboto added there is a little rivalry with the girls that has brewed during the last year after winning Steinbrenner’s first state championship.
“(The girls) always talk a little smack here and there,” Barboto said. “(Their state title) is a big motivation for us because everyone is always talking about them and we made it to regional semifinals and didn’t get anything said about us, and we had a really good record also.”
The Warriors host Bloomingdale on Friday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. Steinbrenner hosts the 4A-8 tournament Jan. 23-27. The championship game is on Friday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.
Jeff Odom / Sports Editor