WEST ORANGE, NJ - No one would have predicted mid-season that the West Orange High School boys varsity soccer team would be the Cinderella story of the year. The Mountaineers held a sub .500 record just a little over a month ago and they nearly missed the playoffs, eventually getting a 15th-seed draw in the Group 4 state tournament. The odds were certainly not in the team's favor.
The earlier struggles were quickly forgotten as West Orange made an outstanding run in state tournament play, capping the season with a 1-0 victory over Clearview, Sunday night at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. The victory crowns West Orange the NJSIAA Group 4 state champions for the first time since 2006 with a season record of 13-7-2.
A series of events unfolded over the past several weeks that turned the team around.
Ian Faloye, who was recently named the West Orange Alternative Press Athlete of the Week, was replaced as Team Captain by Michael Vargas. This move, made by head Soccer Coach Doug Nevins, motivated Faloye to address his playing and his attitude, and Faloye turned in a string of incredible performances to help catapult the team into the playoffs, semi-finals, and now the championship.
“It's surreal.” said senior center-back Faloye. “It's the legacy we've worked four years to create and now we can represent it proudly.”
In the beginning of November, Matt Wilson, a senior forward for the team, was diagnosed with cancer after a biopsy. The team wore practice jerseys with Wilson's number 7, and the team rallied around their friend and dug in their heels to do well in competition as much for him as themselves.
The lone goal of Sunday's game came at 35:43 in the first half off the head of Faloye. A free kick from about 30 yards from junior Andrew Bannout bounced off a Clearview defender in the box before Faloye finished with the goal.
For the entire 80 minutes of game play, the West Orange defense composed of Andrew Bannout, Faloye, Satchel Sankar, Michael Zarro, and Tyler Fort-Forskey shut down Clearview's pressing offense to maintain the shutout. Freshman goal keeper Diego Piedro, making his third start, had 3 saves.
Clearview, who experienced their own incredible rise to the finals, gave up their only goal in tournament play to Faloye, and ended their season 13-6-4. Clearview had toppled Washington Township, top seed, in the South Jersey, Group 4 final.
“This is the most unbelievable feeling,” said coach Doug Nevins. “We went from almost not making states to being group 4 champions. We are so happy for the boys, the school and the town of West Orange.”