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East Naples Middle School boys soccer team makes history

Andrew Sodergren
Marco Eagle
The East Naples Middle School boys soccer squad celebrates winning the Collier County championship after a 4-1 win over Pine Ridge on Friday, Feb. 23 at Gulf Coast High School.

The East Naples Middle School boys soccer team did something that hasn’t been done at the school in 50 years – maybe never.

East Naples won the Collier County middle school championship Friday night, soundly defeating an excellent Pine Ridge team 4-1. Star player Jonathan Nicacio led the charge with a goal and three assists, giving him a hand – or a foot – in every East Naples goal.

“It’s not just me out there,” Nicacio said. “It’s everyone’s determination in playing the game. If everyone’s doing their part, we’re pretty hard to stop.”

Nobody really came close to stopping East Naples all year, with the Gators outscoring opponents 51-7 in seven games.

Jorge Cruz, 21, who played with the Golden Gate High School soccer team as a freshman before transferring to Lorenzo Walker Technical Institute, has served as the Gators’ coach the last three seasons. East Naples has gradually improved in each of his three seasons. Cruz is assisted by Luis Nicacio – Jonathan’s older brother and a senior at Naples High – and Vanessa Wingo.

The East Naples Middle School boys soccer team recently won the Collier County championship, its first title in 50 years and possibly ever. Top row, left to right: Assistant coach Luis Nicacio, assistant coach Vanessa Wingo, Gael Garcia, Matthew Velez, Roberto Olivos, Emiliano Nicacio, Mark Benitez, Colton Castillo, Jonathan Nicacio, Diego Diaz, Zahir Gonzalez, Andrew Santiago, Ubaldo Martinez, Ehivy Ramos, head coach Jorge Cruz. Bottom row, left to right: Oliver Ditheridge, Enrique Rodriguez, Omarion Boston, Hector Avendano, Giovanni Ramos, Eder Alonso and Alvin Arreguin.

“It’s tough to explain with words,” Cruz said. “It’s the first title I’ve ever won and it’s the first title the kids have ever won. Maybe the first ever at the school, at least the last 50 years (when records have been kept). Everything came along well this year, the group just jelled. It’s an honor for all of us as a staff, all the players to bring this home for our school.”

Nicacio, who also stars for the Florida Fire Juniors and Tampa Bay United elite travel squad, is the star of the team. But he can’t do it all by himself.

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“He’s our x-factor, no question about it,” Cruz said. “He gives us a tremendous advantage, and he’s going to be one of the best, if not the best players in the area at the high school level right away. But we have several other great players as well, and it took the effort of everyone on the team to make this happen.”

The Gators topped Manatee 4-2 in the semifinals before disposing of Pine Ridge in the finals. Cruz said his squad knew how talented Pine Ridge was, as it had knocked off a strong Golden Gate squad in the semifinals.

“We knew they were a top level team,” he said. “But to be honest, it seemed like we had control pretty early on. We had most of the possession and kept pressing them in their half. We executed all the things we’ve practiced and felt if we did all those things, we could definitely win it. The boys did an outstanding job all game and all year.”