By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As freshmen Justin Freund and Nick Delida were on a Bluefield High School soccer team that did not win a game. As seniors those two are on a squad that is preparing to play in the state tournament.
The Bluefield Beavers soccer team has made the final four for the first time in school history. The Beavers were to have taken on Fairmont Senior in a semifinal contest Friday morning, but thanks to the snow dropped on the Beckley area, 18 inches, and elsewhere around the Mountain State, the soccer finals have been moved to Tuesday, Nov. 6 and Wednesday, Nov. 7 at the New Trace Complex in Charleston.
Both players are excited about the opportunity to play for a championship and realize how much the program has progressed in the last four seasons.
“We’ve come so far as a team,” Freund said. “We’ve stuck together with a few core players that have been through it all and we’ve really come so far. Just to be at this point right now, it feels so great. There is nothing that can compare to it, really.”
Delida expressed thoughts similar to his teammate.
“It feels great coming from where we were my freshman year, coming to a final four team in the state,” Delida said. “A lot of the guys have played all four years with me as well. We’ve played since we were little, it’s just escalated up to this point. I’ve just been waiting for this to happen. We’re here, we’re going to make the best of it.”
Other four-year players on the team Freund and Delida mentioned were Matthew Sabo, John Brown and Justin Phillips. It was a goal by Phillips with six seconds remaining in a scoreless sectional championship game against PikeView that was monumental in the Beavers advancing in tournament play.
“That was unbelievable, it was just like a dream come true,” Delida said. “It’s hard to explain really, how much that goal meant because that’s all we’ve been worried about all four years, is just getting past PikeView in the sectionals and we finally did it for the first time in a long time at Bluefield High School. We brought a sectional championship back.”
Freund said, “It was the best feeling in the world. I know everyone was going crazy after it happened and we had never beaten them, sixth grade through then, we had never beaten them. That was probably the highlight of the year, maybe highlight of my soccer career, when Justin Phillips put that ball in the net.”
After winning that sectional game the Beavers still had one more game to win before they could pack their bags for the state tournament. Twice during the regular season Bluefield defeated Pocahontas County in close games. The regional championship contest was against the Warriors and the Beavers needed overtime to claim the victory.
That regional championship was the first in school history and a testament to the hard and determined work of the players on the team.
Robb Williams is in his third year as Bluefield soccer coach and both players give him credit for helping the team improve its performance on the field.
“When Robb came he implemented some programs and we worked throughout the summer whenever we could,” Freund said. “We (players) worked out together and then we’ve just always been close. That really helps with practice. We have good leaders and we all take each other’s word and it is really good as far as the leadership goes.”
“I would say the work ethic has really changed a lot,” Delida commented. “I know that this group, the team, we have all worked really hard, especially in the off-season. We really all just wanted to make it past sectionals, and now we’re here in the state tournament and it’s just a great feeling.”
Fairmont Senior is Bluefield’s opponent in the semifinals, a school that just this year moved to down to Class AA, after being very competitive on the pitch in Class AAA. That does not phase the Beavers, however, who believe if they play to their ability, they will be victorious.
“With Jose (Tarin) and Phillips up at forwards, we have really been able to put the ball in the net more and more throughout the season,” Freund pointed out. “Our defense has always been really strong. We’re not going to let you get any cheap goals on us. And then, our midfield play is key. If we control that, I think we’ll have a really good chance to win.”
At a school where football has been king and is having another great season, the “futbol” team is also getting its share of love from the student body.
“There is a lot of support,” Delida said. “At the regional game they brought up three pep buses full of students to come watch us. I know that has never happened in the four years that I’ve been at the school. We’ve never had so much support as we do this year.”
As far as the postponement of the semifinal match to next week, both Delida and Freund believe it will benefit Bluefield.
“If anything, I think it just gives us more time to think about it and really settle down on what’s laid out before us,” Delida said. “It think it will help us, really, because I know a few of the guys I have talked to, they have been a little anxious. It will let us settle down and just realize what the game is, and go in level headed and perform at our best.”
Freund has been working out on his own and plans to continue doing so until the team can assemble again for practice. He also thinks the delay will assist the Beavers.
“I think we’ll be okay,” Freund commented. “With them postponing it, it gives us a few more days to prepare and work on the things we need to, to try to win.”
Whenever the game is played, Delida said, “I am looking forward to the atmosphere, just being in that big game, just trying to go out there and play the hardest and bring another one (championship) back to the school.”