Eddie Rapoport ’18 sets the ball for a penalty kick on the saturated field in Manassas Park. This is heavy. If he makes this shot, R-MA will defeat the sixth-ranked team in the state and advance to the Delaney Athletic Conference (DAC) soccer championship game. Rapoport sizes up the keeper standing in net. The foe is determined to vanquish R-MA’s shot at victory. Rapoport steps back, takes a deep breath, and reminds himself how the R-MA soccer team reached this point.
The level of success that R-MA soccer expected for the 2017 season was not high. They lost five key seniors from last year’s team and had a significant void to fill.
“I was a little nervous at the start of the season,” admitted head coach Steve Latham P ’18. “We lost a number of crucial players in key positions.” Despite the loss of these players, R-MA would rise to every challenge throughout the season.
As the boys continued to get acclimated with each other, they sharpened their skills and increased their effort. What separated this team from their competition was not its level of skill, but its level of grit. They were hustlers and workers. Every practice was an opportunity to get better. Not just as individuals, but as a team. “This group has a lot of team spirit,” said Coach Latham. “They recited a prayer before every game that was meant to inspire them, but it also helped them realize how to play the game.”
The prayer amplified once they reached its climax. “Day by day we get better and better! The team that can’t be beat. WON’T BE BEAT!” The Yellow Jackets did not simply recite this prayer, they lived it. Not just on game day, but in practice as well. That is what separated them from the competition. They put in the work, “day by day.”
The Semi Finals
The boys maintained this work ethic all the way to the DAC semi-finals. It was time to play Seton School for the third time. The first two matches did not go so well. They suffered a 4-0 defeat at Seton followed by a 5-0 defeat at home. This time felt different though. There was a sense of destiny hanging in the air.
“We were ready to play this game,” said Samuel Uzoma ’18. “We felt the hand of God in this one.” The Yellow Jackets gave Seton all they could handle from the first whistle. Rapoport scored the first goal of the game and gave R-MA a 1-0 lead. Seton bounced back with a goal of their own to tie it at 1-1. The score would remain 1-1 for the rest of regulation and overtime. It was time for penalty kicks to decide the game.
Seton and R-MA exchanged goals back and forth until Mason Wilkins ’19 snuffed out the sixth shot from Seton. That is when Rapoport set the ball on the rain-soaked field for his penalty kick. He was too prepared to be nervous. He knew what kind of team he played for and how far they had come since the beginning of September. They deserved this win and he was determined to give it to them.
He approached the ball as it laid on the ground, ready to be sent home. With his eyes, he moved the keeper away from the spot where he planned to shoot, and buried the shot in the back of the net. The Yellow Jackets officially dethroned the kings of the DAC. Pandemonium ensued as the entire R-MA soccer team rushed toward their teammate.
They celebrated the victory for the rest of the day. However, once the morning light of a new day inched through their dorm room windows, it was back to business. The DAC championship was next and Trinity Christian School waited anxiously for the team that slayed Goliath.
It was another hard-fought battle by both teams and R-MA, once again, found themselves in overtime. The first goal would win the match and each team was determined to protect their nets. Both teams were still alive after the first half of overtime.
The final period of overtime began and the crowd’s tension built as each second ticked away towards penalty kicks. With less than a minute left, R-MA made its final substitutions in order to get their best penalty shooters on the field before time expired. That was when a momentous mistake was made. R-MA substituted too many players on the field, which gave Trinity a free kick in R-MA territory. Trinity crossed the ball in front of the R-MA goal and headed it in for the win. Game over.
“We were just thinking, ‘Wait, what? That’s it?’,” said Ryan Latham ’18. “It all happened so fast.” It was an emotional ride to a sudden end, and the Yellow Jackets were heartbroken.
Despite a disappointing end to the championship game, the boys realized that it was far from a disappointing season. They worked hard and it paid off. They grinded every practice with the sole intention of getting better as individuals and as a team. Even when they were having a tough time, they continued to work and improve.
The result: they advanced R-MA boys’ soccer past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. They overcame the leviathan that was the sixth-ranked team in the state. They took Trinity Christian School to the final seconds of overtime in the championship game. But most important of all, they did not let adversity get the best of them. On the contrary, they rose above it, day by day.