Here’s the background… my high school boys soccer team finished the regular season unbeaten and sitting on top of the eastern Maine rankings. This meant that we would have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs all the way as far as the Eastern Maine Final, and a victory there would give us the right to represent the eastern part of the state in the Class A State Championship game. After hard fought playoff victories against Erskine Academy and Morse HS, last Wednesday we were able to outlast old foe Brunswick HS to become Eastern Maine Champions and move on to the Class A State Championship game in Falmouth against Portland HS.
We knew that Portland was a very talented team, one that had speed all over the field, and several individual players whose resumes were quite impressive. Here in Maine, just about any team coming down I-95 to play a team from the southern part of the state is automatically dubbed the underdog, a tag we actually welcomed. After all, down south they have state of the art turf fields to practice and play on, they have indoor facilities that allow them to play year round, and every other player on a roster plays “premier” soccer. What chance did a little old team from up north in Bangor have against the city team from Portland who had won 14 games in a row?
In the days leading up to the game, my assistant coach and I talked about what kind of strategy we should deploy against our latest opponent. Should we be careful not to concede an early goal against what was obviously a potent offense? Should we conservatively play four guys at the back instead of our customary three? What should we do about their star player? How would our guys deal with the unfamiliar artificial turf surface? There were lots of questions to ponder, and sometime before we stepped onto the field on Saturday we would have to have a plan ready.
Saturday morning rolled around quickly and I was feeling a little tense, so I decided to go for a run. I haven’t gone running in a while, but all of the nervous energy built up within me came flooding out as I cruised around the neighborhood with ease. With music pumping from my iPod, and me moving at a rate that I would pay for a day later, a very clear and obvious plan evolved for the game. I called my assistant coach Don to share the idea, and he laughed… he had been just about to call me with exactly the same idea.
What was our master plan? We were going to do exactly what we had done throughout the season to get us where we were. Playing for a state championship is an incredibly special and fleeting opportunity, and we wanted to make sure that our guys embraced the moment… that they didn’t feel they had to compromise who they were and what they do best while worrying about someone else. We didn’t want them to play not to lose, we wanted them to be confident in their abilities, and we didn’t want them to be afraid to try… really try. Winning this game certainly wasn’t going to be easy, but then again, the things that mean the most in life aren’t supposed to come easy.
Long story short… we came out with a belief that we could win, and more importantly, an understanding that in life you have to be willing to stretch sometimes, take a chance on that dream, and never, ever be afraid to fail. In what was probably the most memorable experience in all my years of coaching, our guys passionately played their part in a game that contained many twists and turns, a game that was definitely worthy of a state championship. On an unforgettable evening with an incredible traveling fan base, we eventually prevailed over an impressive adversary by the score of 3-2, and we finished off what was a truly remarkable season as the 2010 Class A Maine State Champions! Go Rams!