AVON LAKE — Players on the current squad were infants and toddlers the last time an Avon Lake boys team advanced to a Sweet 16.
Bill Clinton was still the president, the World Trade Center was still standing and Osama bin Laden, Iraq and Afghanistan were nightmares yet to come.
That would make the year 1998, a long time to wait for a Division I district championship in a school and community with strong soccer traditions.
That changed Saturday when the Shoremen (12-4-3) defeated backyard rival Westlake, 1-0, on captain — and center midfielder — Alex Voloshen’s goal in the ninth minute of overtime.
It was their 11th straight win.
And it propelled Avon Lake into a 7 p.m. Wednesday regional semifinal match with the Medina Bees (10-1-8), who defeated Copley for the Brunswick district crown. Wednesday’s winner will meet either Toledo St. John’s Jesuit or Whitehouse Anthony Wayne for a spot in the state Final Four at noon Saturday in Sandusky.
Avon Lake’s venture beyond the district level is remarkable enough because of the time between championships. It is perhaps more remarkable because the season has been orchestrated by first-year coach Matt DiCapua and his assistant Chuck Petrick.
Not that DiCapua is a rookie. He spent six years as coach at Normandy High in Parma and at one point coached the underdog Invaders to an upset win over Avon Lake. Nor is DiCapua a namby-pamby, laid-back, devil-may-care kind of coach who looks the other way if players show up late for practices or meetings.
DiCapua characterized himself and Petrick as disciplinarians and “pretty intense coaches.”
Junior goalkeeper Kane Adams knows first hand that it’s true.
“Their coaching style is something I haven’t experienced before, but I really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s really helped our team improve this season, because they push us hard and when they’re pushing us, it makes us want to work harder.
“You know, sometimes they yell at us, but it’s constructive criticism we need to get better as a team. I mean, if we have coaches who aren’t giving us information or any ‘tough love,’ then we’re not going anywhere.”
So now they’ve won 11 straight and are off to the Sweet 16, a level the Avon Lake girls team reached in 2006. Whatever DiCapua’s coaching philosophy, it has the boys program back in the regionals.
“We don’t think about 11 matches in a row or that we’re on a win streak,” said Voloshen, the team captain who is also the football team’s placekicker. “We think about game by game and we gotta get the job done next game, gotta get a goal, gotta win.”
Actually, the team culture and philosophy have changed since preseason practice began in August’s heat and humidity.
“To be honest, at the beginning of the season, we used to play for ourselves,” senior midfielder Eric Mills said. “But now going deeper into the playoffs we realize there’s a whole bigger picture and it’s 11 guys for one. We started playing for each other and getting our groove on and just being brothers.”
The Shoremen believe they have the potential to advance and know what they have to do to get there.
“We have a lot of potential,” junior defender Patrick Smith said. “We had a great ending to our (regular) season, we have 11 straight wins now and we’re really looking to keeping it going. I think we’ve been just going off our morale. We’ve had a lot of wins and each one builds us up even more, gives us more confidence.
Junior center midfielder Evan Carlson said: “We need to communicate, stay together and play as a team. One guy can’t do it alone. Also, we have to move the ball and make runs, and our shape in the back is very important. Medina is a very technical team, they move the ball and we can’t let them get behind us.”
DiCapua said the Shoremen are successful because the players have accepted his coaching style and approach to the sport.
“Ultimately, it was just about these kids buying in and getting to believe,” he said. “We thought from day one that we had some talent here and it was really just about getting it all to come together. Unfortunately, last year they won (just a few) games,
“But we’ve been able to turn it around by getting these kids to believe they have a lot of potential and to understand that we can’t be content with where we are. We want to be champions and coach Petrick and I like to think of ourselves as guys who want to motivate with tough love. I think you could say that we’re disciplinarians.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Division I boys
Avon Lake (12-4-3) vs. Medina (10-1-8)
WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Nordonia High School, 8006 S. Bedford Rd., Macedonia
AT STAKE: A berth in Saturday’s regional final against the winner of the Whitehouse Anthony Wayne-Toledo St. John match.
DIRECTIONS: Take I-480 East to I-271 south. Exit at SR 82 (exit 19). Turn left on SR 82, take the first right onto S. Bedford Rd.
AVON LAKE SHOREMEN
COLORS: Maroon and Gold
BOYS ENROLLMENT: 430
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Conference
COACH: Matt DeCapua
LAST REGIONAL APPEARANCE: 1998, lost to Toledo St. John,
2-1, in the regional semifinal.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated North Ridgeville, 2-1, in overtime in the sectional final. Defeated Strongsville, 1-0, in the district semifinal and defeated Westlake, 1-0, in overtime for the Rocky River district championship.
FAST FACTS: The Shoremen have won their last 11 matches since starting the season 1-4-3. Avon Lake has scored at least two goals in 10 of those 11 wins.
TOP PLAYERS: Senior captain Alex Voloshen was the hero for the Shoremen in the district final, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime. Kane Adams has emerged as one of the top goalies in Lorain County. Ian Stewart has been masterful all season on corner kicks. Kyle F. Smith, Kyle T. Smith and Logan DeLong are all potent threats on the offensive end.
COLORS: Green and White
BOYS ENROLLMENT: 854
CONFERENCE: Northeast Ohio Conference
COACH: Mark Malikowski
LAST REGIONAL APPEARANCE: 2012; lost to Westlake, 3-0, in the regional semifinal.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Akron Firestone, 2-1, in the sectional final. Defeated Brunswick, 2-0, in the district semifinal and defeated Copley, 2-1, to win the Brunswick district championship.
FAST FACTS: The Bees played in seven scoreless draws during the regular season. Medina has only allowed three goals in its last 15 matches since a 2-2 tie with Anthony Wayne on Aug. 25.
TOP PLAYERS: Goalkeeper Dean McNeil and defensemen Eric Vinborg, Connor Dease, Ben Case and Jacob Schaefer have led the way as the Bees have shutout 14 opponents this season.
SCOUTING REPORT: Avon Lake is riding high with the area’s longest winning streak, but the Shoremen will have to play even better to beat an equally talented, tournament tested Medina team. The match may come down to the goalkeepers. The two teams have played 11 draws, so don’t be surprised if this one ends in overtime or penalty kicks.