After two-year rebuilding project, Sharks swimming in deep waters again

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

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

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.

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from Gulf Coast’s regional quarterfinal victory

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.”

Noah Nassberg is Gulf Coast’s top points getter. GREGG HARDY/CSI

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.”

Editor’s note: Please support CSI’s advertisers; we cannot exist without their help. Follow CSI on social media: @239CSI (Twitter); facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider (Facebook); @colliersportsinsider (Instagram). Email Gregg Hardy at editor@colliersportsinsider.com.