The Gulf Coast boys soccer team started the season with a lot of big talk.
After advancing to the regional final for the first time last year, the Sharks weren't shy about declaring their intentions for a state title this season. That doesn't mean Gulf Coast has gotten ahead of itself.
The motto all year for the Sharks has been "live the moment." Just two wins short of its goal, Gulf Coast still has its eyes on a title, but the Sharks will be sure to enjoy their first state semifinal game.
"We need to do exactly what the back of our shirts say, and live the moment," senior goalkeeper Eric Scott said. "This is the first time we've been here. That doesn't mean we change the way we play or get too excited about the game."
Gulf Coast (17-3-3) takes on Fort Lauderdale (17-7-1) tonight at 7 in the Class 4A semifinals. The winner advances to the state championship game Feb. 16 at 1:05 p.m. at Melbourne High School.
There have been many big moments for the Sharks to enjoy this postseason.
After an overtime loss to Barron Collier in the district final, an inspired Gulf Coast team won easily, 4-1, at Bradenton-Lakewood Ranch in the first round of regionals. The Sharks then got revenge on their rival, beating Barron in penalty kicks to advance to the regional finals for a second straight season.
Then in Tuesday's regional championship, Gulf Coast got two lucky bounces as both its goals ricocheted off Seminole players. The second score came in double overtime to give the Sharks their program's first regional championship.
All three regional victories came on the road. To get to the state finals, Gulf Coast will have to win away from home again as it travels to Fort Lauderdale.
"We'll do whatever it takes," fifth-year coach and former Sharks player Alan Scott said. "If we have to take the road all the way to Melbourne, we'll take the road."
Gulf Coast has been steadily building to this moment. In 2011, the Sharks won the first regional game since the school opened in 1998. Last year, they claimed the first district title and regional finals berth.
The Sharks' opponent also has made team history this season, though Fort Lauderdale has been around much longer. It was the first school to open in its town in 1899, but didn't add boys soccer until 1979.
The Flying L's went 33 years without a playoff berth until last season, when they lost 3-0 in the regional quarterfinals. Fort Lauderdale has taken a similar path to Gulf Coast this season, winning easily in the first round, then needing overtime to win its past two matches.
For the Gulf Coast seniors who helped build the program, this is their last chance to become the first Collier County soccer team, boys or girls, to win a state title. It would be the culmination of a long, hard journey that started with a 4-15-3 record as freshmen.
Since that forgettable first year, the Sharks' seven seniors have grown together and become a family, coach Alan Scott said. The desire to have one more game together is what is driving Gulf Coast to get to state.
"We're going to give it our best knowing it could be our last game together," senior center-mid and captain Sylvester Szczesniewicz said. "Being two games from a state championship, we're so close, we might as well just go and get it."