For the good of the team
Charleston Catholic coach Sam Fox heard it from the beginning of the season.
"Everybody told me there would be a dropoff, but I haven't seen that at all,'' said the Fighting Irish's second-year coach, who guided Catholic to its third straight Class AA-A state championship last year.
One of the main reasons Catholic, which lost its top goal scorer among three all-state players, has continued to play at a high level has been the players' willingness to move to different positions to make the team stronger.
That unselfishness has allowed the Irish to weather injuries and suspensions to finish the regular season No. 1 in Class AA-A state coaches association rankings and chase their fourth state championship in a row when the state tournament semifinals begin Friday at the YMCA Youth Soccer Complex in Beckley. (See Page 2B for pairings and schedule.)
Catholic (21-0-2) is one of three teams in the state regardless of class or gender to own an undefeated record and also packs a 53-match unbeaten streak.
"This year we've had some players step up and play positions they didn't want to play,'' said Fox. "I don't think we'd have the record we have if the guys didn't play positions they hadn't anticipated at the start of the season. It's been one of the key story lines of our team.''
The leadership started at the top with seniors Luke Smith and Tanner Whipkey willing to give up comfortable positions. Smith, who played center midfield last year, was moved to center back while Whipkey is now the stopper on defense.
In addition, senior William Scriptunas and freshman Joey Trupo have alternated between forward and outside midfield, where they have both flourished with 21 and 14 goals, respectively. Also, senior Domenic Cipollone has played right back or midfield at different times while his brother, freshman Anthony Cipollone, has manned every position except goalkeeper.
"I can't overemphasize how important that's been,'' said Fox. "It's allowed us to put other players in positions that the coaching staff thinks they're needed in.
"Without that we'd have a big hole somewhere on the field. We're fortunate the boys are out for the good of the team. The team from Day 1 has had the goal in mind to win a state championship and they'll do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.''
Senior Sam Revercomb has the second-most goals in the Kanawha Valley with 34, but it has been his leadership along with the other upperclassmen that has made the difference.
"The senior class, they're all a little bit different,'' Fox said. "Many of them started last year and some even as sophomores. I knew that they were good soccer players. It was a matter of how they were going to fit as leaders on the team. That was the big question mark coming into the season for me.''
There are no questions now.
"They lead a little bit different, but I think they're just as effective,'' said Fox. "Those guys last year were more like coaches on the field. They said a lot of things last year I didn't have to.
"This year the leaders are a little more quiet and they lead more through their actions. There have been some times when the seniors stepped up when we faced adversity and they took control.''
No team has won four titles in a row since the boys state tournament began in 1988, but Fox said he believes the Irish are taking the right approach. Buckhannon-Upshur is the only other school to win three straight championships (1993-95).
"Almost every practice this year has been loose,'' said the Catholic coach, whose school has won all but one of the state titles contested since the tournament was split from one division to two in 2008. "We haven't had any practices where I thought the boys were wound too tight. That's a good thing.
"I think they all enjoy soccer and when you enjoy it as much as they do you're able to have fun when you practice and play. The pressure is not there. I think that is good when you can practice and play good under those conditions.''