Q&A: A season to remember

Southwest High School's boys' soccer team places fourth in state

Southwest High School's varsity boys' soccer team, the Lakers, finished its season nearly undefeated. It lost its last two games in the State Tournament at the Metrodome to Stillwater and Apple Valley earlier this month - but still made it further this season than it had in over a decade. Education reporter Anna Pratt talked with Lakers' Head Coach Jamie Plaisance and team captains, Cory Vanachen, Alfonso Ibarra, and Sean McDermott about what made the team so successful this season. Below are highlights from the interview.

Anna Pratt: What made the Lakers so strong this year? What were the team's dynamics like?

Coach Jamie Plaisance: There hasn't been a team that has had the kind of camaraderie that this team has had. They were very humble and got along extremely well. I'm most proud of its diverse group of guys these guys from the beginning were very positive and supportive. They had very little ego. That was the key to our success this year. They all wanted the best for each other. It started with the four senior captains. All of them had their different personalities that helped the team. Leadership from the top just reverberated through the whole team. It was hard for someone to be negative or to have a bad day. The group wouldn't let that happen. They just enjoyed playing.

Cory Vanachen: A big part of it came from captains and coaches who worked really hard to keep a positive vibe going. Our team really worked on good technical soccer with lots of passes.

It didn't matter what ethnicity you were or what language you spoke. Everyone got together and respected each other. There were so many clowns on the team. Everyone was laughing all the time, and that really helped our team.

In past years, there was a lot more individual play. This year, the goal of every single person was for the team to win.

Alfonso Ibarra: At other schools, it's more segregated. At Southwest, everyone gets to know each other it's more put together. More cultures get along. It's really different from other schools. We were proud to be from Southwest.

Sean McDermott: People hung out together inside and outside of school. They wanted to be part of the team. It was a lot of fun. We got along really well, had fun at practice, took it seriously and laughed. Being a team made the season so much more fun. Everyone on the team did his part. They were focused and wanted to be there.

AP: What was it like playing in the state championship at the Metrodome?

JP: I'm not sure there's a way to prepare kids for playing at the Metrodome. It'd been 13 years since Southwest even made the State Tournament. We were the number-two seed [category] in the tournament. Not only have they not experienced it, but, they haven't even heard of a Southwest team experiencing it. It's one thing to say ‘go play at the Metrodome.' It's another thing to walk out of the tunnel and onto the field and have the whole school there. I don't know if we played our best, but I know the guys went from being nervous to just enjoying it.

CV: It was an exciting experience. It was kind of disappointing, but it was also really fun. I think we took the game a little too seriously. In every other game, we had fun.

AI: It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We played good, but we were overconfident. We're a good team and could've played better, but we were emotional and nervous.

SM: I wish it would've turned out differently, but it was good to be there. It was a lot of fun.

AP: Lessons learned?

JP: I hope they can take away from the season that when you set your mind to do something, stay focused and positive. When a group of people come together, no matter where they're from or what their background is, if they work together and put aside their individual wants and needs and think about what's best for the group, great things can happen. Even the so-called best players and the ones who had the most accolades had enough humility to say ‘hey, I'm just part of the team.' That's the difference between team and individual sports. You can't win or lose games by yourself [on a team].

CV: I think that any group of people that has a positive vibe is going to perform at a really high rate; coming together as a team will take you a long way. So many groups of people came together.

AI: Last year, I played varsity for the last half of the year. The last year players had special talents. But this year there was more playing as a team, more passing and more plays. That's how we kept the ball together.

SM: I learned how to play a new position. I usually play midfield. For the first time, I played defense. I learned what it was like to be part of a really great team with good people.

AP: What are the most memorable moments from the season?

JP: One of my favorite moments was after the last game at the dome. We went back into the locker room and sat there for a good half-hour. We sat in a circle and had everyone talk about favorite moments from the season. A lot of them had really different things to say. It was really emotional. We were only together two-and-a-half months and started practicing in August, so it was compact but also really intense.

The great thing is, what the seniors helped to accomplish will always be there. Not just the trophies in the case, but for the kids on the team, for the junior varsity, freshman and elementary teams, there's a legacy that'll always be there and a new standard for Southwest. It's something to shoot for again that seems realistic. It's something they can be proud of for the rest of their lives.

CV: It was really exciting because it was such a big deal, and we were doing so well. We didn't really look at it that way because it makes you lose your focus. We just went out and played our hardest and did our best to win.

AI: We're a great team, not the best team, but people used to say we weren't going to go anywhere. It feels good. We set a goal and went for it and accomplished it. Now people recognize we're a big team. I know that I can reach my goals. It gives me more motivation to have a goal and go for it because I know I can do it.

SM: The most memorable thing for me was how far we made it. We made our goals at the beginning of the year. Everyone wanted to make it to state. We went out and accomplished that.

AP: Community response?

JP: Just to show you what team sports can do, the whole school was lined up, applauding the team [after the final game]. The band was playing. I felt so good for the guys. Their classmates were recognizing them and showing gratitude. That's what high school sports are all about - representing the school and the community. All kinds of people came to the games. People were coming who wouldn't normally come. I got so many e-mails saying, ‘I love your team.' It's so great to hear that a group you're working with is bringing something positive to the school there's something special about them that people really latched onto.

CV: When we got back after the second game in the dome, it was really nice because there was a drum line. It made us feel really good, even though it was disappointing that we didn't win those two games, everyone was still proud of us.

AI: Even if it was another team's home, we always had more people there to cheer for us. It was more about school pride.

SM: We did it as a team all the way. It was cool later when the school came out to support us even though we didn't win at the end. People have been impressed with the level of skills [we showed].

Anna Pratt can be reached at [email protected].