To a man, members of the Viera High boys soccer team will tell you that this year’s club is different than any other the Hawks have had before.
And time and again, they keep backing it up.
Wednesday night’s 6-1 victory over visiting Bloomindale in the Class 6A regional quarterfinals was significant for the Hawks in a number of ways.
The most obvious, of course, is that Viera (16-1-2) will advance to Saturday’s regional semifinals, where the Hawks will take on Plant City (15-2-1) at 7 p.m. for a spot in the regional finals. Plant City defeated Melbourne 2-1 in its quarterfinal matchup.
Viera, which came into the Bloomingdale game as the District 12 champion ranked No. 3 in Class 6A by MaxPreps, had a record of 1-7 and was on a seven-game losing streak in its previous trips to the state tournament. The Hawks’ only regional win came in 2010.
“I just remember losing the past three years in a row in the first round,” senior Evan Kirrane said. “We just wanted to change that, and this is definitely the team to do that with all of these great players out here.
“It was a great game.”
Kirrane had two of Viera’s goals Wednesday night, including the go-ahead goal which came nine minutes into the contest. He also scored on a penalty kick.
Lucas Patikas, John Anasa, Conner Floyd and Gabe Shelton also scored for Viera with four of those goals coming in the second half.
“The boys were fantastic,” Viera coach Nick Robinson said. “We executed going forward. Obviously, we gave up a poor goal. That’s always a bit of a negative. But the way we responded to get another quick one after that … we’ve just got a good, focused group.
“We’ve been relentless in the final third. We’ve been efficient. And today was another example of that.”
After a goal by Patikas gave Viera an early 1-0 lead, a defensive mistake led to the game-tying goal by Bloomingdale senior Cade McMillan. It was the 20th goal of the season for McMillan, who drew a lot of attention from Viera defenders Austin Kehoe, Nyles Lockridge and Floyd throughout the game.
Whenever Bloomingdale (9-6-2) would attempt a corner kick or a throw-in from Viera’s goal area, McMillan would always find himself surrounded.
“We just wanted to make it as difficult for him as possible, and I thought we did that for the most part,” Robinson said. “Just keep him guessing. Between Nyles, Austin and Conner, they did a really good job on him. I was happy all around.”
With the score tied at 1-1, the Hawks set up for a corner kick that was sent perfectly into the box by Max May.
“I was not going to go in at first,” Kirrane said. “I was going to sit at the top of the box,” Kirrane said. “But John Anasa told me, ‘Go in. Go in. You’ve got a good header.’
“So, I went in … it was right there, and I just headed it in.”
Leading 2-1 at the half, Viera got a goal from Anasa shortly after play resumed and that seemed to open the floodgates as the Hawks would get three more.
Kirrane’s penalty kick was one of two Viera had on the night as the game got physical and nothing was done about it until a brief skirmish broke out in the second half that led to a red card for each team.
But that didn’t slow the Hawks down as they continued to press forward, keeping their eyes on their team goals.
“This team is just different … the mentality and everything,” Kirrane said. “The training sessions are the biggest difference. Practice, it’s like a game. The competitiveness, it’s amazing.”
Plant City, which boasts a 21-goal scorer in senior David Ruiz, will certainly give the Hawks a challenge.
But it’s also true that this Viera team has its goals set much higher than snapping a seven-game regional playoff losing streak. Viera will be pushing for its first-ever trip to the regional finals … and more.
“We know that we’ve got the ability to make a deep run and we want to do that,” Robinson said. “We’ve just got to make sure the focus is there and that we get back to work (Thursday) and get ready for Saturday’s game.”