ROYAL PALM BEACH — Heading into the 2019-2020 season, few could express how many years it had been since the the Olympic Heights’ boys soccer program’s last district title.
Most just knew the number of years was higher than they could count on two hands — fingers and toes combined, in fact.
So when the Lions won Friday night’s game 3-1 against seemingly-favored Blanche Ely, the significance was not lost.
Players rushed the field, bathed the coach in Gatorade, and proceeded to bask in each others’ shouts and grins as the result of the match hit home.
What started as a 1-0 deficit in the first half was quickly doused. The Lions drew even when Brett Mazo fed senior captain Matthew Shook for the score.
“We had a rough start, but once we started playing for each other, playing for that name on front, that name on the back, we came together,” Shook said.
For his part, Shook left the game early after dislocating his arm for the fourth time this season, but his score was a catalyst for the Lions’ driving energy in the match.
The two teams held their tie for over forty minutes of game-play, and the intensity only grew — both from the players on either side, as well as the referees, who appeared intent on having a say in the game. By contest’s end, the Lions were playing with a 9-7 player advantage, following the removal of six players via red cards.
“Just want to keep the intensity going,” Mazo said of the conversation during halftime. “Just play your heart out.”
As the momentum began to favor Olympic Heights in the second half, it was Mazo once again setting the dominoes for his team. He launched a pass toward the center of the net, and senior Raphael Menezes was there to capitalize in dynamic fashion.
But Menezes wasn’t quite finished. Just minutes later, the senior striker once more did what he does best — score.
“Amazing coming back from the middle of the season when I quit,” Menezes said. “And now to come back and score two goals to win districts.”
The Lions rode the heartbreaker to the whistle, securing their 3-1 victory.
While Menezes finished with two goals, Mazo notched assists on all three scores for Olympic Heights.
“These guys played harder than I’ve ever seen them play,” said Olympic Heights head coach Emanuel Freitas. “It was a lot of heart. We are a technical team, but today, it was grit. They just fought through. It was great to see.”
Up next, the Lions will prepare for the Regional Quarterfinals — but for now, celebration calls.