By Kyle LoJacono
Four playoff appearances, a pair of district championships and the 2008 Class 5A state title.
That’s the resume for Wharton boys soccer during the last five years. The Wildcats (8-3-1) have become accustomed to winning, creating a tradition of success as well as demands from within to remain on top.
“We’re expected to be in regionals every year,” said senior midfielder Ize Cadet. “If we don’t make it out of districts, which we didn’t two years ago, it’s a big surprise. … It’s a good pressure. Coach (Scott Ware) is always trying to get us playing our best in districts because that’s the most important time.”
Ware took over at Wharton for the 2006-07 season, becoming only the second coach in program history.
“Mike Rowan, who is the principal at King now, he started it when the school opened in 1997,” Ware said. “He has a good soccer mind and got them through the early struggles. I just kind of came in and was lucky to have a good team. I tried to instill my values and let them know how we train and practice.”
For Ware, the No. 1 rule is give max effort in every drill.
“We preach you play like you practice,” Ware said. “When I first start to pick the team for the year we talk about what it means to wear Wharton across their chest. … The quote we’ve put up on the board all year is ‘focus on the process and the results will come.’”
The Wildcats have put up 78 wins during the last five years, including a perfect 5-0 start this year in Class 5A-District 8 play. The perfect district record is no small accomplishment considering the power within 5A-8.
District rival Bloomingdale is a three-time state champion, while Durant is the 5A state runner-up from a year ago. 5A-8 also includes Alonso, Newsome, Plant and Riverview.
Ware does not shy away from tough competition when making Wharton’s nondistrict and tournament schedule. The Wildcats’ only losses came in tournaments, the first two in its Thanksgiving classic.
“During Thanksgiving we played two really tough teams in Celebration and Montverde (Academy), which was the No. 1 ranked team last year and to start this year,” Ware said. “I never turn down playing those kind of teams because that makes you better. I want to play the best so we can be the best.”
Ware has seen firsthand what playing against the best can do for a team.
“I look back to that 2008 year when we won states,” Ware said. “That season we were 8-5-2 at one time, close to a .500 team. We were the No. 4 seed going into districts and rolled off a 10-game winning streak to win the state championship. We played good competition all year, so we had a down record but were ready for the playoffs.”
Ware and his players all believe they still have another level of play that can be reached if they continue working hard in each practice.
“We’ve been playing good, but we haven’t played our best yet,” said senior forward Alex Noble. “That might seem crazy because of our record, but we think like we can be a lot better. We know we’re playing better now than when we started the year, so it’s pretty exciting to think what we can be in a couple more weeks.”
Noble has scored three goals this season playing alongside fellow senior forward Felipe Desousa, who is leading the squad with 15 goals and nine assists. Cadet, who is an attacking midfielder, has posted five goals and four assists.
Ware said he knew coming into the season his squad had the ability to score goals on a regular basis, which is why he has put a big emphasis on team defense.
“Last year we didn’t have a lot of shutouts and we’ve really turned that around this year,” Ware said. “We’re allowing just over a goal per game. Our goal is to keep the other team off the scoreboard.”
Wharton has allowed just 13 goals all season, five of which came in one game against Montverde. Protecting the back of the net is senior goalkeeper Keenan Kushner, who has six shutouts and 32 saves this season.
“As long as we play as a team and play for each other we’ll be fine,” Kushner said. “That’s how we get shutouts by playing together and how we score on offense. … Team chemistry last year was not as good as it could have been. This year it’s better with nine juniors coming back for this year, and we all work well together because we’re playing for each other.”
Wharton played a pair of games during its own invitational tournament on Dec. 19, but results were not available by press time. The Wildcats’ next regular season contest is at Alonso on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. The 5A-8 district tournament is at Bloomingdale Jan. 23-27.
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.