After winning two games and tying one in its final seven-game stretch in 2014, the Tempe Prep men’s soccer team has concluded a testing season. Player ineligibilities, from academics and even more so from a wide range of injuries, hampered the team’s ability and made game-to-game consistency unattainable; in only one game in this second half of the season was the full squad of players available.
Nevertheless, the team continually fought through this adversity and the frustration that came as a result. As captain and defender/midfielder Connor Woltz believed, “everyone [on the team] possessed a mindset that it was their responsibility to fill the gap in the team… The team responded well and the next man up was always ready to play.”
To commence the 2014 portion of their schedule, the Knights squared off against Veritas Prep in a home game. TPA quickly jumped out to an advantage, and eventually led their opponents 4-0 at halftime. The lead grew to 5 at one point in the second half, when junior Isai Estevez capped off an impressive hat trick performance, adding to goals already netted by sophomores Connor Woltz and Jacob Brown. Though Veritas Prep showed signs of life towards the latter stages of the contest, the victor had long been decided, as Tempe Prep eventually prevailed 5-2.
Following a disappointing defeat to Bourgade Catholic 3-0, the Knights returned home to face a familiar opponent over the years in Valley Christian. After yielding a goal early and needing some time to settle into the game, Tempe Prep finally capitalized on its chances when junior Curtis Schultz slotted home the equalizer. Only a few minutes thereafter, junior captain Ryan Bush knocked in a beautifully-placed free kick that ultimately proved to be the decisive score. The Knights staved off several dangerous attempts by Valley Christian nearing the end of the game, and won 2-1, marking the last victory of the 2013-14 campaign.
What followed was a three-game losing streak that definitively precluded a berth in the playoffs. The opponents in this span became progressively more formidable, the last of which, Fountain Hills, regarded as one of the elite teams in the division. Yet the season did not end on so much of a somber note for Tempe Prep, as the last game provided quite the thrilling finish.
In what was the final match of the regular season for both sides, the Knights faced off against a determined Saint Mary’s squad eager to seize its first victory. Despite possessing a clear advantage in terms of talent and physique, Tempe Prep could not pull away from the opposition, as it was matched goal-for-goal by Saint Mary’s, ultimately having to head into overtime with the score at a 2-2 stalemate.
Emotions ran high throughout the contest, as rough play came from both teams, and at one point spilled over into a minor brawl between players. As a result of the aggressiveness from both sides, the officials seemed to have an exaggerated reaction and began to call the game much more tightly. According to Coach Dean Sale, the game “was poorly officiated and the referees lost control on the field.”
The game eventually ended in a 2-2 draw, as although the Knights created plenty of opportunities for a go-ahead score, they simply ran out of time. And while failing to cap off the season with a victory, Woltz felt that the game exemplified his team’s progress in the past few months. “As the [Saint Mary’s game] started to become more intense, the team proved its maturity. In situations where the team from earlier in the season would’ve faltered, this team persevered.”
As the 2013-14 season came to a close for the Knights, Woltz felt relatively pleased with the team’s effort, albeit posting a 4-7-1 mark. “For a young team we came together and began to play quite well as a unit,” said Woltz. “Everyone was able to learn the components of the game and started understanding where they should be and their role on the field.”
The captain also recognized the importance of patience in the development of Tempe Prep’s soccer program, one in which he will play a prominent role in his remaining two years. Looking ahead to next season, Woltz “believe[s] the future is bright for TPA soccer and that if the team is willing to work through the off-season, the Knights will have the ability to compete with anyone.”
*Published on February 13th.