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It’s all about revenge for Tigers

Correspondent file photo / Dave Dermer Howland’s 40-goal scorer Gabriel Altawil leads the Tigers into the Division II state final today.

Revenge.

It’s been on the mind of everyone involved in Howland’s boys soccer program for a year now after a 1-0 loss to Tipp City Tippecanoe in the Division II state final last season.

The Tigers have a chance to rectify that this afternoon as Howland gets another shot at Tipp City in the 2020 Division II state final at 4 p.m. at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus.

“It’s been a long road,” senior forward Jordan Sperling said after a 3-0 state semifinal win over Lima Shawnee on Wednesday. “With COVID, we didn’t even know if we were going to play, but we knew one thing, we knew we really wanted to get back if we had the chance to play.

“We have great coaches, great guys, we all stick together. We stuck together this far and we want to get one more. This is really what it’s all about this year is we want to get this one.”

Since that loss to Tippecanoe a year ago, the Tigers have yet to lose a game, and the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record is a 0-0 tie with Canfield. While not looking ahead, it’s clear the Howland players had the thought of a rematch sitting in the back of their minds.

“Our goal was to make it back here and, honestly, to win it,” senior goalkeeper Lucas Brill said. “We’ve started the journey, now we’ve just got to finish it. We made it to the very last step, we’ve just got to put it away and get the ring.”

Tipp City (23-0-0), returns six starters and appears to have improved from last season’s state championship team.

“They’re very, very similar (to last year),” Howland coach Brian Stiles said. “I think overall, they’re probably a little better than they were last year based off what I’m seeing. They have a sophomore who is their leading goal scorer, added some talent coming up from the JV ranks and got six starters back from last year and the majority of their backline.”

Howland, on the other hand, returns its attacking core. The team’s four leading goal scorers, seniors Gabriel Altawil (40 goals), Sperling (31 goals) and Austin Stassinis (14 goals), and junior Gabriel Lisi (19 goals), all return to the lineup and will take on Tipp City’s experienced defensive core.

“It’s going to be kind of a replay there,” Stiles said. “Then a few new guys attacking at us and, of course, we have some new guys in the back end. It’ll make for an interesting game.”

The experience on the attacking end has led to a more offensive approach this season. The Tigers have only allowed one goal the postseason and have outscored their opponents 131-6 on the season.

“In the back of our minds that’s kind of what we wanted,” Altawil said after Wednesday’s game. “I think this year we’re a much different team. We’re a lot more attack-oriented, so we just need to keep our composure and try to get some revenge.”

Overall, Howland enters the game with a bit more confidence just due to its experience, which is crucial on the mental side of the game. Now that the team has been to the state title game, the pregame jitters and overwhelming feeling of “being there” shouldn’t be as much of a factor.

“I think last year, we had that feeling of ‘we’re happy just to be here. We accomplished something by getting here’,” Stiles said. “Now we’re at the point where yes, you’ve played this game, lost this game, you remember what that feeling felt like. Now you hope to use that emotion to push it further this year so that we don’t feel it again.”

Going into a state title game poses unique challenges that a regular game doesn’t offer. That’s where the team’s experience will be very useful.

“What was nice is that a lot of the older guys are walking the younger players through the process, because it’s a very different process from a regular game,” Stiles said. “I was happy to see that. The leadership, just getting them to understand that it is a little bit of a different environment, but what we’re going down there for is to play the game.”

The Tigers have 10 seniors on their roster, and they will be more crucial than ever for the team’s success. If the seniors succeed, Stiles said he thinks the team will succeed.

“I think this game means so much to our seniors,” Stiles said. “I want them to have a great game. That’s the biggest thing. They’ve done so much for the program. You get so close to these kids. I want to see them going out playing their very best game they played, and if we do that we should be okay.”

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