Matthew Herrmann, center, leads the Gulf Coast boys soccer team in a pregame huddle before Wednesday's regional quarterfinal victory over Flanagan High. GREGG HARDY/CSI
For seven years, spanning the 2011-12 to 2017-18 seasons, the Gulf Coast High School boys soccer program achieved elite status throughout Florida.
Still Collier County’s only soccer program to win a state championship, the Sharks captured two state titles in 2013 and 2018 (and seemed a good bet for another in 2017 before their unbeaten squad was stunned by Palmetto in a regional quarterfinal shootout).
Then, the wheels came off. Gulf Coast went 5-10-5 and 6-9-5 over the last two seasons, respectively. Suddenly, the Sharks weren’t even among the best teams in their own county.
However, coach Bryan Billingsley said, there was a ray of light at the very end of last season. The Sharks played eventual state semifinalist Cypress Bay down to the wire in a 1-0 district finals loss.
And since that game?
“The positive momentum has built, and the kids have bought in, and the success has followed,” Billingsley said Wednesday night following his team’s 3-1 regional quarterfinal home win over Flanagan High.
On Saturday, the Sharks will have the opportunity to move one step closer to a goal that seemed, at best, unrealistic one year ago. Their opponent? Cypress Bay (which they defeated 3-0 in the Class 7A-District 13 title game on Feb. 4).
“It’s realistic,” Billingsley said, making the case for his team to vie for another state title. “We’ve done it before.
“This is a pandemic postseason run this year. This is the most exciting thing of the (Covid-19) pandemic, and we’re taking it as far as we can.”
Unlike those great Gulf Coast teams of the prior decade, this year’s Sharks squad doesn’t have what Billingsley calls a “true go-to guy.” Rather, he said, “It’s a total team.” Senior Noah Nassberg (9 goals, 10 assists, 28 points) and sophomore Marcello Maffei (10 goals, 4 assists, 24 points) lead the team offensively. On Wednesday, it was senior Ethan Barbier who shined with a goal and an assist.
“This team’s a little bit different,” said Billingsley, who was a Sharks assistant coach for 17 years before being named head coach by his predecessor Alan Scott (a 2006 Gulf Coast graduate who’s now the school’s athletic director … and still a presence on the Sharks sideline). “This team is a good team. I don’t like to compare teams. This team has a lot of depth; it has a lot of versatility coming off the bench, which helps us immensely. In the past when we had those teams that made runs, we usually have had one or two go-to guys.”
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