ROUND ROCK (October 17, 2018) – Many times when teams in any sport are playing at their state meet for the first time, they’ll say, “We’re just happy to be here.”
At Wednesday’s Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) Fall Soccer state semifinal, Regents Academy, out of Nacogdoches, showed everyone how to go from happy to giddy in about 20 minutes.
That is, thanks to a hat trick of goals from junior James Vermillion and an assist on a fourth to senior midfielder Anabelle Terrell.
The quick 4-0 lead in the first 18 minutes left the opposing Yavneh Academy of Dallas Bulldogs “a little shell-shocked” according to their head coach Alan Sandler.
A fourth goal by Vermillion in 36th minute put the Eagles up 5-0 at half – a lead that would be threatened by Yavneh with three second half goals but would not be enough to keep head coach Rick Bertke’s squad out of Thursday’s TAPPS Fall Soccer state championship.
Regents Academy, which remains an undefeated 11-0 with the 5-3 win over Yavneh, will now face Round Rock Concordia High School – a 1-0 winner earlier in the day against Kingsville Presbyterian Pan American – at Round Rock’s Multipurpose Complex at 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 18.
It will be TAPPS’ 48th Fall Soccer crown to be awarded since 1984 – and for either team, it will be their first.
But Yavneh didn’t make it easy for Regents the last 40 minutes.
“We let the first half get away from us, but in the second half we really pulled it together,” said Yavnew head coach Alan Sandler. “We got three goals and we came close on a few other occasions. I think the guys left it out on the field and they never gave up and just makes us proud to be a coach of this team.”
In the 46th minute, Yavneh senior Sammy Nurko drove his ball into the upper right-hand corner of the goal – past freshman keeper Will Furniss – from about 15 yards out to the right of the goal and over two defenders to drop the Eagles’ advantage to 5-1.
Five minutes later, senior Max Weinstein found an opening in the middle in front of the net and found the same upper right-hand corner after a pass from sophomore Elisha Klein to trim the lead to 5-2.
Regents was unable to get its first attack on the Bulldogs goal until the 66th minute when Vermillion, inserted back in for senior Evan Muir, got a decent shot that was saved by Bulldog senior goalie Jared Notelovitz.
No more than two minutes later, Nurko, from the opposite side of the goal and with a pass from junior Tyler Winton, sailed another ball past Furniss to start to make the Eagle faithful nervous by cutting the advantage to 5-3.
Despite a second half that was much more physical than the first half, Regents Academy prevailed defensively where nearly the entire half was played on their end of the pitch.
Sandler aptly described the contest as “a game of two halves.”
“I hadn’t seen them before, but we’d heard about them and we knew that they came out of the blocks right away,” he explained of Regents quick start. “We told the boys but I think they didn’t realize how quickly and how strongly they were going to come out.
“They played incredibly well. They’re a very, very good team.”
Bertke seems to revel, though, in being able to hide in a district that’s all east of Texas highway 19.
“We’ve got a number of exceptional soccer players,” he said. “A lot of them play club soccer and even though we’re from east Texas, we still play.”
And before the contest, they had well-wishes from one of the best soccer players that Texas – and the United States – has ever produced, Nacogdoches’ own Clint Dempsey.
Bertke said that some of the players’ parents knew Dempsey and arranged for the pre-game message.
He noted, though, that the wind played a factor in both teams’ successes.
“We had the wind with us the first half,” he said. “That changes and (all of a sudden) you’re always going into the wind.
“We adjusted our formation a little bit to become a little more defensive by dropping one of our attacking midfielders to a defending midfielder.
“It gave them some opportunities and they also threw numbers forward so that kept putting pressure on us.
“We thought the 5-0 lead was a little too much for them to overcome. We didn’t expect them to get three, but they did and we were able to come away with the win in the end.”
To produce a win on Thursday against Round Rock Concordia, Bethke will need to see much of the same from not only Vermillion – and those who got the ball to him, including juniors Drew Middlebrook and Conner Young, but also freshman midfielder Owen Fairley.
It is Vermillion’s first year at forward, according to Bertke.
“We actually moved Vermillion from center back last year,” he said. “Some of my players were very skeptical about moving him up, but when we get the ball to his feet, he can shoot left foot or right foot.”
The junior had three goals against Fort Worth Bethesda and one against Dallas International School in the regional contest.
Setting the table – along with senior midfielder Anabelle Terrell – in the first half scoring wave was Fairley.
“Our midfield is really strong,” Bertke said. “Fairley is a freshman. He’s small, but he can move the ball.
“Everything goes through him, and they’re always looking for him because he’s so quick on the ball and his passing ability and vision on the field are really great.”
And while the Eagles prepare for the Cardinals tomorrow, Yavneh Academy of Dallas head coach Sandler has a great jumping off point for next year.
“(It was a) very good season for us,” he said. “It is the farthest we’ve ever gotten in the history of our soccer program.
“The guys have nothing to be ashamed of. They went out fighting. They gave it their all in the last half of the game.”
By Jon Walk