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Let's Hear It For The Boys

Featured Photo from Let's Hear It For The Boys

The LMHS boys’ soccer team makes Seminole County history with its first state championship.

The quest to win a Florida High School Athletic Association state title in boys’ soccer has been an exercise in frustration for the schools in Seminole County. Despite having some of the best programs and most talented players, the teams in this area have come up empty when it comes to claiming the state’s ultimate prize.

Lake Mary High School finally put an end to the Seminole County drought by winning the Class 5A state championship on February 23, defeating Miami’s Felix Varela High School, 2-1, at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand. The Rams, who finished the season with a sparkling 24-5-1 record, had previously been state runners-up in 1987 and 2003, and they reached the state final four in 1988, 1989, and 1994. This season, they also won the always-tough Seminole Athletic Conference, as well as district and region titles.

“In our county, we beat ourselves up so much, it’s exhausting,” says Eric Sellick, a former player at Lake Brantley High and assistant coach at Lyman, who has been Lake Mary’s head coach since the 2014-2015 season. “You have to win eight [playoff] games to win the state title, and that’s hard to do. Seminole High School lost in the semifinals the past two years.Lake Mary, Lake Brantley, and Lyman have all lost in the state tournament. Our teams have never gotten over the hump.”

All those years of falling just short of a state title are now in the past, thanks to a tremendous performance by Lake Mary’s players and coaching staff.

“It was like a weight was finally lifted off of us,” Eric says. “It was cool knowing that we are representing our school and the county. Seminole County has deserved one of these [titles] for a long time, so it was very special. It still doesn’t feel real.”

Eric was more than happy to share Lake Mary’s victory with the countless players and coaches who came before this year’s victorious team. Among them are Lake Mary’s first head coach, local legend Larry McCorkle, and one of Lake Mary’s current assistant coaches, Mike Dunlap.

Larry – who holds Florida’s record for most victories by a high-school boys’ soccer coach (585) – coached the Rams from 1982-2005, leading the team to all of their previous state final-four appearances. Mike, who was in Lake Mary High School’s first graduating class (1984), played on the Rams’ first varsity team and knows as well as anyone how difficult it is to win a state title.

“I can’t believe it never happened under Larry McCorkle; he was an amazing coach,” Mike says. “But I did think Lake Mary should’ve won before this, and so should have Lyman and several other Seminole County teams. As a former player at this school, to see this happen, it was amazing.”

Another person who was happy to see Lake Mary’s boys win a state title was the school’s longtime girls’ coach, Bill Eissele. He started the girls’ program in 1983 – and won state titles in 1989, 1998, and 2001.

“There was always an expectation that one of the boys’ teams [in Seminole County] would win,” says Bill, who was an assistant coach under Larry for the first boys’ varsity team. “I think we’re all surprised that it took this long. But it’s an exciting thing that Lake Mary was the first one to win it. And it’s well-deserved.”

To win the state championship, Lake Mary had to overcome many obstacles, including injuries and stiff competition from rival Hagerty High.

“We knew we had a lot of talent going into the season,” Eric says. “But we were decimated by injuries. Eleven players were out for at least a week, including our star player [senior midfielder Nazar Tsaruk].”

Hagerty had been the state’s top-ranked team in Class 5A all season, and the Huskies handed Lake Mary its first loss of the season early on. But the Rams would go on to beat Hagerty three consecutive times when it counted most – for the conference title, for the district title, and in the region semifinals.

After clobbering Spruce Creek High, 9-1, in the region final, Lake Mary beat Bradenton’s Lakewood Ranch High School, 2-0, in the state semifinals in what Eric described as “the most impressive match against the toughest team we played all year, in front of the most hostile crowd” that he had ever experienced as a player or coach.

In the final, Nazar and his fellow senior co-captain, defender Luke Chappel, each scored goals in the first half en route to a 2-1  Rams victory.

“It was surreal,” Eric says. “By the time the final came around, our staff was exhausted. The whole season was a real emotional roller coaster. This state title meant a lot to our kids, our coaches, and Seminole County.”

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