WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange High School boys soccer program made a darkhorse run from the 15th seed spot to win the Group 4 NJSIAA Boys Soccer State Championship. West Orange began the season with a record below .500, yet managed to win its last nine games, including six state playoff games.
This midseason turn-around occurred due to increased maturity -- not from the challenges faced on the field, but from the difficulties encountered off the field.
For the first half of the boys' season, one of Mountaineers' main forwards was Matthew Wilson, a large left-footed forward, who made a good combination with his fellow seniors: the quick Michael Vargas, and the strong man with a powerful shot, Garret Mulinge. Yet, Wilson, a fourth-year varsity player, appeared to be struggling and wasn’t as strong and fast as years before. Since preseason, he had been grappling with a left leg injury.
Doctors could not pinpoint the source of the injury for weeks. The possibility of a bruised bone and tendonitis were examined. Wilson was finally sent to the the hospital for an MRI which showed a cancerous mass on his left leg. This meant that Wilson had been playing/training on the leg with cancer for over six weeks.
“Talk about courage,” Coach Nevins said, “It was amazing that he could play on one knee. He was begging us to play because he is so competitive.”
“After my diagnosis, I felt like I wasn't part of the team but my teammates helped show me that I was a big part of the team and I was grateful for that. I realized that you don't have to play on the field to be important,” Wilson said.
Coach Nevins stated, “It’s a shame that it took something like this, but it’s kind of brought everyone together and put everything in perspective.”
Wilson got to see some of the games before the playoffs, and even made it to the State Sectional semi-final upset victory over state ranked Montclair, and the State Final game against Clearview at The College of New Jersey, in Ewing, NJ. Wilson said that he finally realized the team’s chances of winning the whole thing after the Montclair game, but it had always been in the back of his mind.
“After winning that amazing game against Montclair, I then realized that I was right. In the beginning of the season I said to my teammates Ian (Faloye), (Michael) Zarro, and Garrett (Mulinge) that we can win anything we set our minds to, and once the whole team set their minds to winning every single game, that's what they ended up doing” Wilson proclaimed.
Sebi Turano, one of the captains of the boys soccer team, said the team really responded well in the face of adversity. “It’s really taught us how grateful we should be that we’re here playing. It’s taught us a lot about life, not just about soccer.”
The team wore a white shirt with simply the No. “7” on the front before each game state game while they warmed up. This was a tribute to Wilson, whose number has been "7" for multiple seasons.
Matt is not only in good condition, with surgery set to have the mass removed in January, but the mass is getting smaller every day. The medicines the doctors have prescribed are working well, and Matt has high hopes. He’s remained positive throughout the whole ordeal.
Matt had this to say about his situation: “To play with a tumor in my knee made me feel weak. I wasn't able to play the way I knew I could. I could do nothing -- I couldn't run or shoot and I felt helpless. After the diagnosis, I actually felt great to know that I went that long with that kind of condition. I felt like a superhero and that's the attitude that is going to help me beat my illness.”
Although I am a WOHS TAP team reporter, I am also part of the boys soccer team, and watching the season's progression was amazing. At the beginning of the season we were a bunch of decent individual players, who didn’t have the maturity to play together as a team. Yet, Matt, being a team leader, always gave speeches before games to help us stay on track. After we found out about his condition, something immediately clicked in the heads of all the players and the maturity level was unbelievable. We became grateful for everything that we had, and we knew that this season was one that would never come again, so we had to work as hard as we could so we wouldn’t waste a chance. In the huddle of starters before each game, the captains would usually come up with a word/phrase to say. But after Matt’s diagnosis, the only thing said in that huddle for the rest of the season was one phrase…“Matt.”
Of all the people on our team to have such a horrible thing happen to them, Matt was probably the only one who could have handled it so well and with such maturity. He was never scared; he just remained positive and didn’t let this get in the way. This was just another setback for him, one that he’d clearly overcome. Matt Wilson is an inspiration for the West Orange High School boys soccer team, and for everyone.