Gulf Coast boys soccer coach Alan Scott has been gearing up for this moment for four years, maybe longer.
When a talented group of freshmen came in four seasons ago, Scott, then in his second year, refocused the Sharks' entire program on Saturday's 1:05 p.m. Class 4A state championship game. Seeing the possibilities, Scott played the freshmen in place of several veteran seniors to get the young players ready for greatness one day.
The move didn't look so good when Gulf Coast suffered through a 4-15-3 record that year. Now that the Sharks are on the cusp on history, Scott is reaping the benefits of the plan he put in place three seasons ago.
"We saw the potential from the beginning," Scott said. "We saw this group of freshmen come in and we cleaned house a little bit. We knew they'd take their bumps and bruises, but we kept telling them there's a bigger picture. I think they saw that."
Gulf Coast (18-3-3) is looking to do what no other soccer team in Collier County has done. The Sharks play Lutz-Steinbrenner (17-1-3) at 1:05 p.m. at Melbourne High School for the county's first state championship.
"We started our freshman year losing most our games, worked up to the top and now we're going to state," senior Sylvester Szczesniewicz said. "Everyone said we couldn't do it, that we were a young program with no talent. Look where it got us now."
Back in the fall of 2009, Scott was confident in his coaching move because he already knew what his new players were capable of. One of the talented freshmen was goalkeeper Eric Scott, the coach's younger brother.
Just seven years older, Alan Scott watched Eric grow up playing youth soccer with Vincent Desiano and Szczesniewicz. Along with four-year player Carlos Paz, those current seniors have made up the core of the Sharks' recent rise.
"When the players started clicking, the chemistry got better," said Szczesniewicz, who has signed with North Florida. "The coaching got better, more strict. We have fun, but when it's time to practice, we practice; when it's time to play, we play."
Gulf Coast had another losing season in 2010-11, going 8-10-5 in the group's sophomore year, but qualified for regionals. It was just the second regional berth in school history and first since 2006, Alan Scott's senior year with the Sharks.
Although Gulf Coast had never won a playoff game until that year, the Sharks' coach made sure his player stayed focused on the sport's biggest goal.
"We pushed them to think they could win state," Alan Scott said. "That's when we started to see things turn. They started to believe in something bigger than a district title, bigger than a winning season. They saw the bigger picture."
Last season, Gulf Coast won its first district championship and advanced to the regional finals. The Sharks benefited from the addition of Clay Curvin, who transferred from Naples last year. Curvin has led the team in scoring the past two seasons.
"This means the world to us," Curvin said. "We've all been working since middle school thinking about winning a state championship. Now it's reality."
This year Gulf Coast is even stronger after adding defensive stopper Owen McCorkle, a transfer from Palmetto Ridge. McCorkle helped build chemistry since he was already friends with many of the Sharks after playing with them in youth and travel leagues.
"This team is like no other team," McCorkle said. "We're a family. We do everything together. Since the first day of practice, we've all worked hard. We all want to get things done."
Gulf Coast is just the third Collier County soccer team to make it to the state finals. In 1995, the Naples High boys and the Barron Collier girls each lost in their respective championship games.
Even before winning last week's 4A semifinal, the Sharks were on a short list of successful local programs. By winning a regional championship, Gulf Coast became the fourth Collier County boys team to advance to the state semifinals. Four girls teams have done it.
The Sharks face another program making team history for the 4A title. Steinbrenner, which opened in 2009, had made the state tournament twice before this season and won just one regional game.
With just one more game left in their careers, the Gulf Coast seniors don't plan to change anything. Nerves might play a factor, they admit, but the Sharks plan to attack Steinbrenner with the same enthusiasm they've exuded since they were kids playing together.
"We've worked through everything so far," McCorkle said. "(Scott) getting us prepared is all we need. He's told us since the beginning our mindset isn't to beat certain teams, it's to win state."