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Elation at last: Tampa Catholic wins first state boys soccer title

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Making it to a state championship match in boys soccer is a terrific feat. Tampa Catholic has done it five times, the latest coming in Thursday’s Class 3A final. 

The Crusaders also know just how difficult it is to win one.. Each time they got here before — in 1989, 2000, 2016 and 2020 —  they fell short. The players trudged off the field after those losses in silent misery, each wondering why they were unable to snap out of their state final stupor. 

This time, the outcome was different. 

Tampa Catholic ended years of frustration with a 4-2 win over Miami Westminster Christian. 

As the final seconds ticked away, the Crusaders smiled with a glow that lifted the air around them.

It was a moment of unfiltered joy for a state title they could finally embrace.

Tampa Catholic, ranked No. 1 in 3A, fifth overall in the state and eighth nationally, had finally figured it out. It was all there, the jubilation and relief that came with knowing the Crusaders had cracked the safe and learned how a state title is won.

They did it with an offense that had been potent throughout the postseason. 

Tampa Catholic has been controlled on occasion — for a few minutes, maybe even a half.

Then things seem to explode.

The soccer ball starts finding its way into the net. The offense becomes unhinged — forwards, midfielders, defenders, it doesn’t matter.

Suddenly, the frenzy is on and every shot seemingly produces a score. It’s like an adding machine gone wild and a tight match becomes a blowout.

It happened last week when the Crusaders kept pouring it on in an 8-1 rout of Jacksonville Bolles in the state semifinals. That outburst boosted Tampa Catholic’s average to four goals a game throughout the playoffs. 

So when the Crusaders fell behind 1-0, it was not problematic. 

The offense simply went to work. 

Marcello Valbuena, Tampa Catholic’s leading scorer, connected on two goals within an eight-minute lead to give the Crusaders’ their first lead, one that would last the rest of the match. 

Jack O’ Leary scored to make it 3-1 at the half, then Jacob Spengler blasted in a shot on a penalty midway through the second half to round out the scoring for Tampa Catholic. 

It was more than to maintain the lead, one that ended with the Crusaders finally winning the one that mattered most.  

Boys Soccer

Marcello Valbuena named state boys soccer player of the year

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Tampa Catholic’s Marcello Valbuena, who led the Class 3A state champions in scoring, was named Mr. Soccer, the award given to the top boys player in the state by the Florida Dairy Farmers. 

Valbuena, named the 3A player of the year last week, received 12 of the 17 first place votes and had 134 points, 52 more than Fort Myers Canterbury’s McLaren Baggett, the 2A player of the year. 

This is the ninth time an area player has won the top overall honor in boys soccer. The last was Tampa Prep’s Shaddy Douidar in 2013. 

Valbuena, a senior forward, decided to play high school soccer for the first time this season after playing strictly at the club level. The University of Tampa signee finished with 36 goals and five assists. In the 3A state title match, Valbuena connected on two goals within an eight-minute span to give Tampa Catholic its first lead, one that would last the rest of the match to secure the Crusaders’ first state title in boys soccer. 

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Boys Soccer

Weeki Wachee’s Seth Tarbox named 4A player of the year

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Weeki Wachee’s Seth Tarbox, one of the area’s top playmakers, was named the Class 4A state player of the year in boys soccer by the Florida Dairy Farmers.

The senior forward teamed with Jacob Kelly to form a dynamic 1-2 punch for the Hornets. Kelly scored a team-high 33 goals, many of which were set up by Tarbox. 

Tarbox was adept at putting the ball through the net, too. The Warner signee finished with 25 goals and 25 assists to help Weeki Wachee advance to the region finals. 

The winners in each classification were selected through voting from a statewide panel of boys soccer coaches and media representatives. They are now eligible to be named the overall winner in the state, which will go through another round of voting and likely be announced next week.  

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Boys Soccer

Boys soccer: Jesuit unable to repeat as 5A state champions

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Winning a state title is difficult.

Repeating as a state champion is even more challenging. 

Graduation can take away key players. Complacency can take hold. Anything can happen. 

Jesuit’s boys soccer team knows. 

The Tigers, one of the area’s most storied programs, has won seven state titles, second locally behind Clearwater Central Catholic’s nine championships.  But only during a three-year stretch from 1997-99 was Jesuit to win those titles consecutively. 

That was the task the Tigers faced after taking home the 5A title last season. Jesuit said goodbye to 16 players who graduated, including Carson Bien, the 5A state player of the year. 

Losing that much talent off a roster would pose difficulties for any program. But Tigers always have reinforcements.

The newcomers filled in adequately. The holdovers took on bigger roles as leaders. The wins kept coming, so much Jesuit found itself in a familiar spot by making it back to Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand for Saturday’s 5A title match. 

But the Tigers could not hold on to a first half lead, falling in overtime to Belen Jesuit 2-1.

In the first half, Jesuit took the lead on a goal from Ty Cabbasa. Belen Jesuit answered early in the second half on a header from Aidan Miles to tie the match. 

It stayed that way through the end of regulation and one overtime period. 

In the second overtime, the Wolverines converted on a second-chance ball off a free kick to take the lead.

Jesuit tried to rally but could not get a shot to fall through the net that would have tied the match.

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