By Kyle LoJacono
Young athletes across the country dream of one day winning a national championship. Most never make it a reality, but Odessa resident Ryan Horne did as a freshman.
He is a member of the Clearwater Christian College soccer team that just won the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Division II title. The forward and midfielder helped the Cougars (15-5) defeat Ohio Christian University 2-0 in the championship game.
“I’ve never won a soccer title in high school, even a district title, so it’s insane having this happen my first year in college,” Horne said. “I knew we were good, but being the best in the country, you don’t expect that.”
It is actually the second straight national title for Clearwater Christian.
“We had people coming after us with everything they had all year because the team won it all the year before,” Horne said. “That made it hard because you can’t sneak up on anyone.”
James Whitaker became the Cougars coach three seasons ago and knew it would be hard to repeat this year.
“Last season we flew under the radar all year because our program hadn’t ever won a national championship,” Whitaker said. “Actually, it was the first men’s national championship at the school. This year, I wouldn’t say we expected to win, but we would have been disappointed if we didn’t because we know what it takes now. We returned most of our players and added a lot of young talent.”
Horne was among those additions. He went to Citrus Park Christian High and was the squad’s leading scorer as a senior. He cited three reasons for attending the school, including its Christian atmosphere, its emergence as a soccer power and its proximity to home, a location close enough for parents Sid and Diane to attend matches.
“I know this is the place for me,” Horne said. “Coach Whitaker cares about you off the field and makes sure you’re doing the right thing. … The players, we all get along. During games we’re really serious, but we have a good time between games. It’s like a big family.”
Horne started playing soccer around age 3. He also played football, basketball and baseball in high school, but was drawn to the grass on the pitch.
“I just love playing soccer,” Horne said. “I like the other sports, but I love soccer.”
After winning the NCCAA Southern Region, the Cougars advanced to the eight-team championship tournament. In the title game, Clearwater Christian scored its two goals in the first half to win in the crown. It was the 11th shutout of the season.
While Horne did not start often his first year, he was valuable to the Cougars coming off the bench.
“He would bring energy to our lineup,” Whitaker said. “He is a very attack-minded and fast player who forces the other team to play up-tempo soccer. … He also had a great attitude in practice because he always worked very hard. He was one of the hardest players to defend in practice and made our defenders get a lot better from going against him.”
The Cougars will lose seven seniors to graduation this year and Whitaker said there is a good chance Horne will move into one of those starting positions next season.
“We’ll need to have several new starters step up,” Whitaker said. “We’ll lose our leading scorer Tyler Spraul, but we’ll bring back our goal keeper Anthony DeRosse and I’m confident we’ll still have a strong team.”
Horne has three more years of eligibility, giving him plenty of time to improve his game. He is majoring in business, but said he wants to get a chance to play professional soccer.
“I’d love to have that shot,” Horne said. “Playing the game I’ve been around since I was 3 for a living. That would be a dream.”