Berkeley High Mens Soccer Clinches NCS Finals

BY LIAT LEVIN sports editor

For the first time in thirteen years, Berkeley High School’s boys soccer team captured a North Coast Section (NCS) championship. In order to become champions, they faced four extremely strong teams from the East Bay Athletic League. Berkeley proved they could more than handle the competition, beating twelfth seed Granada, thirteenth seed Foothill, first seed and rival San Ramon Valley (SRV), and finally third seed De La Salle to come away with the championship last Saturday, February 25.

Do not be misled by the relatively low seeds of Granada and Foothill; both teams competed fiercely, with the match against Foothill going into double overtime. Senior Captain Max Peterson said of the game, “Even though Foothill was the lowest seed we played … [that game] aside from this game was the hardest game.” Peterson also said “much respect for Granada, Foothill, SRV, De La Salle; I don’t think we could have asked for a tougher series of games.” In fact, three out of four of the games in this series went to double overtime and the final against De La Salle came down to penalty kicks, which, according to Peterson, “is always a hard way to end.” The winning goal in the 4-3 shootout was scored by junior Paul Joseph, who had been promoted from the junior varsity for the NCS tournament.

Saturday night’s final against De La Salle, was at neutral Dublin High School. Berkeley started strongly. The match began with a lot of good possession and chances for Berkeley, which added to the Berkeley crowd’s wild energy — a constant force throughout the match. Berkeley’s starting line-up featured six seniors, four juniors, and one sophomore, a relatively experienced eleven for the biggest game of the season.

The first half saw an even match in the midfield with great ball control by Senior Captain Arturo Verdin who out-jumped players much taller than him, and both teams had decent stretches of possession and a few chances. The 0-0 score by the fortieth minute reflected that even match. BHS Athletic Director Britta Fjelstrom spoke of Berkeley’s strengths in the first half, noting, “They really play as a team … I don’t see people playing for their own glory. I feel that they are all playing for each other.”

The second half began with a couple of good chances for Berkeley, but when Junior Nick Lukan, who’s long throw-ins had been a valuable asset to Berkeley, went down with an injury with 35 minutes left in regulation, a goal was beginning to seem less likely. Berkeley’s squad perked up when Senior Tiez Allison subbed back in with 27 minutes left in regulation. Just five minutes later, a characteristically long drop kick by Captain Goalie Róin Flynn fell to Allison who speedily out-dribbled the De La Salle defense and sent a left-footed shot into the back of the net. The goal sent a roar through the fans and Berkeley’s bench leaped up to celebrate what could have been the winning goal. Never count out De La Salle though, a team that won six straight NCS titles from 2008 to 2014. Even though Berkeley looked to have momentum immediately following their goal, De La Salle’s sudden intensity combined with some small lapses in focus for Berkeley allowed a De La Salle goal with just six minutes left in the game. There were several good opportunities for both sides following the De La Salle goal, but neither team could put it away, so the game headed into overtime. NCS overtime is composed of two 10 minute “golden goal” periods, meaning that a goal scored at any point ends the game. Both overtime periods were evenly matched, with some close shots for Berkeley and De La Salle. However, no winner was decided before the whistle signaled the end the second period of overtime, so Berkeley’s fate would be decided by the always unpredictable penalty kicks.

Senior Captain Arlo Moore-Bloom took and made the first shot, followed by a save by Flynn, to which the Berkeley crowd went wild. Peterson and De La Salle Wyatt Hattich both scored in the next round. The third round saw two misses — a crossbar hit for Junior Yohannes Kalonji and another save by Flynn. Senior Max Heintz made his shot along with De La Salle’s Ian Nicolas. In the fifth round, Flynn took his shot but De La Salle Goalie Erik Ornelas saved it, and another goal for De La Salle followed. After five rounds, the score was 3-3. In the sixth round, Junior Paul Joseph’s goal followed by Flynn’s save clinched the title for the Yellow Jackets. Joseph’s goal was actually his first touch on Varsity, as he was moved up from Junior Varsity for NCS.

A sea of students, parents, and fans poured down from the stands and out onto the field to congratulate the newest Division I boys soccer champions of NCS. BHS principal, Erin Schweng, said, “It’s been a long time since we’ve been here, so we are super proud of the boys for making it this far.”

Ever calm, cool and collected, Flynn said of his team, “I knew that I could trust my teammates to win … we practice penalties a lot in practice, I knew that they’d score theirs.”

Although De La Salle is known for its speed and ability to come through in clutch situations, Berkeley outpaced them in regulation with speedy Tiez Allison and Yohannes Kalonji, and outshot De La Salle in the clutch in penalty kicks with Flynn making three incredible saves. Flynn, the hero of the shootout with three saves, said that the win “felt like a long time coming.” Peterson said, “there’s nothing better,” and senior Darius Wekwerth said, “it’s indescribable.”

Wrapping up one of the most successful seasons in BHS soccer history as a team, the success of individual players didn’t go unnoticed — Moore-Bloom won the Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area’s Soccer Player of the Year award for his outstanding performance throughout the season.

This win cements Berkeley as a formidable opponent to look out for in the upcoming years.