Tigers revel in fourth straight district championship with win over West Shore

The Holy Trinity Tigers pose with the Class 3A, District 10 championship trophy after beating West Shore 3-2 Wednesday night. It's the fourth straight district title for the Tigers.

Jake Wells wanted to win this one more than any other game the Holy Trinity boys soccer team played this season.

And he wasn’t alone.

That’s because it wasn’t just about what the Tigers were playing for. It was also about who they were playing against.

And for the fourth straight season, the Class 3A, District 10 trophy belongs to Holy Trinity.

Wells, a sophomore, scored twice Wednesday night and eighth-grader Nathan Combs added another goal as the Tigers defeated bitter rival West Shore 3-2 in the title game played at Edgewood.

“It felt great. I’m just really glad we won,” Wells said. “I wanted to win this game more than anything, more than any game this season. It’s a huge accomplishment.”

The victory showed just how far the Tigers (13-1-1) have come after a Dec. 2, regular-season loss to West Shore (13-3-2) on a late hand-ball call and subsequent penalty shot.

It was West Shore’s first win over Holy Trinity since 2017 and the way the Wildcats reacted afterward didn’t exactly sit well with the Tigers.

“This game was more of a revenge game for us after the regular-season game,” Holy Trinity coach Adrian Moreno wrote in an email.

“Our boys watched after the game how West Shore celebrated the win. The boys watched three seniors from West Shore pose for a picture on our crest on the field.

“They carried that image all season and were hungry for revenge (Wednesday) night. I made sure the boys remembered it, too, by posting the picture in our locker room for them to see every day when districts started.

“Outside of that image, the team knew that both teams were evenly matched and that the game would really come down to who wanted to win more as well as the discipline from the team.”

Holy Trinity’s first goal came from a long throw-in by Reef LaGala that saw the ball go into a crowd of players where it was headed and eventually fell to the feet of Combs, who struck a volley from about 12 yards out for the goal.

After West Shore tied the game at 1-1, the Tigers would re-take the lead just after the second-half water break. LaGala took a ball out of the air and chipped it into the box for Wells to run onto. Wells got a foot on the ball as a West Shore hit him, and then his own keeper, and the ball rolled into the net.

Wells would score again with 12 minutes remaining. LaGala played a ball through for Combs, but it was intercepted by a West Shore defender and then subsequently taken back by Wells, who scored from 25 yards out.

 “The second goal … the guy took a huge touch,” Wells said. “I just took the ball away from him and I was like, well, whatever. I’m going to shoot. I knew it was going in. In the first half, I had taken a couple of shots from outside the 18 and I felt one of them was going to go in.

“I took that shot, I knew it was going to go in, and I ran to the fans.”

To West Shore’s credit, the Wildcats would come back to make it 3-2 before the night would end. But this time, it was the Tigers who got to celebrate.

Holy Trinity has now gone 9-0-1 since that loss to West Shore, including a 1-0 win against Melbourne and a scoreless tie against the high-powered Viera Hawks.

“After that West Shore loss, that really woke us up that anything can happen now,” Wells said. “And the fact that we knew we would play them in the (district) finals and we had lost to them … we knew we had to wake up.

“That tie with Viera, that really said something about us. And when we beat Mel, I think that was one of the huge factors in our season.”

What makes that 10-game streak so impressive is all of the other circumstances the Tigers have had to overcome, including a roster that featured only four seniors – LaGala, Dylan Gibson, Giancarlo Valdivia and Hayden Van Kramer – and had to rely on a number of younger players.

That list included juniors Aidan Bovelsky; Grant Shoultz; Brayden Seitz; Andrew Turner and John Paul Alzate along with sophomores like Wells; Keegan Harrison; Vikram Sabapathy; Aayan Shah; Ramel Hernandez; Parker Duran and first-year keeper Finn Werder.

There were also eight freshman, some in key roles, that included Cooper Euziere; Duncan MacKenzie; Cathan Gillin; Aiden Holtcamp; Jude Lindbaek; Evan Spreitzer; Luke Thomas and Grady Houston.

“This season can be summed up with Dealing with Adversity,” Moreno wrote. “We entered the season not really clicking as a group with new players coming into the squad and losing some key players (from) last season. Struggled the first few games with our playing style, but things started working well until our loss to West Shore.

“We faced games without key players due to injury and sickness but the boys kept fighting. To go 9-0-1 since the loss is incredible and certainly something no one expected.

“We had a pretty tough January schedule. To see everything come together (Wednesday) night was very satisfying and the team relished every minute of it. They’ve all worked hard since last year’s loss in the regional final to get to this point.”

Of Holy Trinity’s last four wins over West Shore in the district tournament, Wednesday’s was the least dramatic.

The Tigers beat the Wildcats in a penalty kick shootout in the district semifinals four years ago, then again on penalty kicks in the last two championship games.

What’s also interesting to note, is that Holy Trinity’s four district titles have come with three different keepers – James Linnabary (who won two), Robert Varnes and now Werder, who has given up just six goals in 15 games this season despite never having played soccer before.

“Moving to another first-year soccer player goalkeeper is certainly crazy to think about,” Moreno wrote. “I know going into the summer, I was racking my brain with coaches at the school on who they thought would be a good choice this season. Finn Werder kind of came out of nowhere for us.

“Finn was volunteering at a summer soccer camp at the school and was playing goalie against the kids and was actually doing pretty well. It took some talking to for him to leave basketball to play soccer, but once he committed to it, he’s loved every minute of it. The team has loved having him in net and he’s really grown with the group.”

Having Van Kramer and Bovelsky in the back has obviously been a help, just like having Wells up front has been good for the Holy Trinity offense.

Wells, who had a big penalty kick in last year’s regional semifinal win against Edgwood, had the game-winning goal against Melbourne and now with two goals in the district final, appears to be playing his best in the big moments.

“Jake Wells has grown into a very successful player at Holy Trinity and at club,” Moreno said. “At the beginning of the season, he was struggling to hit the back of the net, but still worked hard every game for us. I saw in the final few weeks of the season that he started to gain more confidence in his game.

“His game-winner against Melbourne High School started the momentum he’s gained and he’s on fire now for us going into regionals. He’s definitely got a bright future ahead of him at Holy Trinity.”

Wells took his recent success in stride.

“Honestly, I might score the goals, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” he said. “It’s a team sport and without my team – the whole 11 – I just feel like I wouldn’t be able to get those goals without them.”

The FHSAA regionals brackets were released Friday afternoon. The Tigers received the No. 2 seed in Region 2 and are scheduled to host No. 7 FAU Wednesday night at 7.

With West Shore receiving the No. 3 seed and hosting Crescent City in the regional quarterfinals, there’s a chance the two rivals could play each other for a third time this season in the regional semifinals.

But for right now, the Tigers can certainly revel in knowing they are the district champions for the fourth year in a row.

“Certainly, winning four in row is something I didn’t think would happen and probably very few people in Brevard County thought as well,” Moreno said. “Pretty sure everyone picked West Shore to win this year with the core group of returners and so many seniors (12) on their team.

“I think I love being looked at as the underdog. Keeps the pressure off the boys. I certainly feel like my coaching success wouldn’t have happened had Coach James Phillips given me a chance back in 2012 to be the JV coach at HT. My life wouldn’t be where it’s at now had that not happened.”