Cougars win first soccer championship in history with 2-0 shutout of the Mustangs!
The Cottage School Cougars do the improbable; defeating the Mill Springs Mustangs 2-0 in the Atlanta Athletic Conference soccer championship match. It marks the first in school history. They Cottage Cougars have raised banners in Cross Country, Basketball, Baseball, Tennis, and Track and Field multiple times but never in Soccer; until now.
Before this game, Mill Springs had not lost an AAC contest dating back to a regular season loss to the mighty Brandon Hall Panthers in September of 2013. After upsetting the 8-time champion Panthers in the AAC final that same year, the Mustangs won two more titles and it appeared on their way to a four-peat in 2016. MSA defeated TCS twice during the season and were the heavy favorite, but Cottage was confident this year was going to be different. Coach Richie Briggs spoke before kickoff, “Today is going to be tough but we know we can do it. We did not have our full roster in each of the close losses earlier in the season but do now, so with our full team on the field, the Mustangs will be in for a surprise.”
The first half went back and forth without a team proving they were stronger. Both teams took seven shots on goal and the time of possession was about even as well. The only difference occurred with just 10 minutes left before intermission. The Cougars won a ball and pushed it up the front left side. Freshman, Maria Knezek received a great feed from Harris Menetre. Knezek had a breakaway just inside the box so the MSA defender got nervous and literally took Maria out. The fullback completely missed the ball, kicking the Cougar striker in the legs completely forcing her airborne as if she was trying out for a part in Supergirl! Rightfully so, the lead official blew her whistle and a PK was awarded to TCS. The Cougars sent Co-Captain Harris to shoot the penalty shot. Menetre booted it to his right as the Mustang keeper leaned opposite.
The Cougars took the 1-0 lead and held it until halftime. The Cougars had been here before however, taking a 1-0 lead three weeks prior in their last regular season match versus MSA only to lose 3-1. Coach Vazquez spoke at the break. “You must play with all of your heart now. There is no other time. This is the moment we make history and bring a championship to TCS. Mill Springs will be even more physical the second half but we are prepared and mentally tough enough to handle it. Trust and communicate with each other throughout, and the war will be won. Remember, the last time I told you they won the two battles but we will win the war. Now is the time to win the war!”
The next 27 minutes were more of the same but MSA did appear to gain confidence as they began to win more balls in the midfield and as a result had more shots on goal (9-5 second half). But Cottage had Harrison Rowell in goal and he made save after crucial save to keep his team with the slim 1-0 edge. Just after Rowell made an incredible game tying save off a corner kick, TCS made a run up front left again. This time, John Brown made a cutback move to the middle, attracting three MSA defenders. Recognizing he would not get a clean shot off, he saw teammate, Maria Knezek trailing behind him in the center of the box. Brown touched it back and Knezek did not hesitate, taking a one-timer left boot to the back right side of the goal. The Mustang keeper could barely see with the several bodies in his path and by the time he realized it the ball was in the back of the net. It was Maria’s first goal of her varsity Cougar career, and what better time.
The Cougars changed their formation in the final 13 minutes, dropping back to defend making it almost impossible for the Mustangs to find any wholes for high quality shots on goal. Their leading scorer, #11 Jake Garrett was already being harassed by Murphy Husnik, who had been guarding him one on one for the final 25 minutes of the contest. Leading into this game, Garrett led the league in points so the Cougar strategy was to make someone else from MSA to beat them. In those final twenty-five minutes, Garrett did not get a shot off and the Mustang supporting cast went 0-3 from the pitch. The final whistle blew and the large Cottage crowd jumped with glee as the Cougars rushed the field with euphoria. Coach Briggs, who had coached the soccer team his first six years (2005-2010) and now again in 2016, spoke after the historic victory. “Unreal! We have had a few very good teams here in my twelve years and before then, only a couple more so to be a part of this year’s team; words cannot describe the joy and how proud I am of them. Coach Hector did an incredible job in his first year as head coach. I want to give credit to Wilfrid Ward and Jennifer Sudbury as they also helped guide many of these kids, coaching them each of the last five seasons. Saying The Cottage School Cougars are AAC Soccer Champions is like saying the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series; nobody but true believers thought it could ever happen!”
TCS finished 7-5-1 on the season becoming only the third team in school history with seven wins. The 2005 3rd place team finished 8-9 and the 2009 Cougars were 7-6-2. The difference with this 2016 Cottage team is that they became the first in school history to finish two games over five hundred and of course, win the ultimate prize; the AAC crown!
Larry Orsini did not score a point but won several balls and helped keep pressure on the Mustang defense. With his effort in this game and his two goals and an assist in the semi-final vs. Howard, Orsini becomes the first Cougar in history to win the AAC soccer tournament MVP, and he is just a freshman.
Senior, Harrison Rowell saved 11 shots to help shut out the three time championship Mustangs. Rowell was just one vote shy of MVP honors. Not bad for someone who has only played seven soccer games in his life; all this season.
Junior, Harris Menetre scored on the PK. This goal earned him 26 overall AAC points taking the lead on the season. He lost by one point to #11-Garrett from MSA last season and now beats him by one point. Orsini finished third behind these two guys with 24 points.
Maria Knezek is also a freshman and was the result of both goals in the game. Her effort and skill with the ball gave the Cougars multiple chances up front to secure the 2-0 win.
Sophomore, Murphy Husnik played great on defense as usual but it was his effort marking #11-Garrett the final 25 minutes that completely shut down the Mustang attack.
Senior, Chase Follis was outstanding as the Cougar sweeper and will go down as one of the best to play the position for TCS in history. His name will be mentioned with the likes of Steven Sale, Harry Cochran, Scott Hendrickson, and Jake Utley.
Seniors, Kia Smith and Tyler Kimble along with freshman, Shane Hendrickson were incredible on defense as well. Their hustle, communication, and toughness matched any other on the field.
Senior, John Brown finished his Cougar career exactly how he had hoped; an AAC Champion! His assist to Knezek broke the Mustang backs and it was like Brown’s way of passing the torch to the Cougar future youth. Brown finished with 5 goals and 3 assists in his final four games of his career.
Roman Lawlor, Parker Stanley-12th, and Sasha Torri each contributed in solid play for TCS. Sasha picked up a yellow card midway through the first half forcing the coaching staff to not take any chances, benching Torri until the final ten minutes. Roman, Parker, Kristina Farthing, and Alex Hoeve filled that void showing the depth and makeup of this outstanding Cottage team!
Congrats to the rest of the Cougars for their efforts each day in practice and previous games. Many just remember who played in the final game but it is the ENTIRE unit that makes Cottage so strong. The Cougars would not be champions without the effort and teamwork from; Natalie Yager, Jeremiah Sella-12th, DJ Watts, Dalton Lantz, Liam Lovette, Tommy Ingle, Matt Tempel, Kendra Freedman, Eric Vogel, Colton Parks, and Mitchell Starks.
Thank you parents and friends, staff and students for all your support all year, especially in the title game today. You were loud and proud which helped keep the team motivated, knowing they had a 12th man on their side!
Very Proud Championship Coaches,
Hector Vazquez and Richie Briggs