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Mooney boys soccer chases another title

Life is a journey.

Going into this fall, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding high school sports and the voyage that teams would go on as the summer heat gave way to the autumn wind.

For the Cardinal Mooney boys soccer program, that journey ends this afternoon at MAPFRE Stadium, win or lose. The Cardinals have an opportunity that hasn’t presented itself to Mooney since 2005 — a chance to bring a state title back to Youngstown.

Mooney faces Cincinnati Mariemont in the Division III state championship game at 1 p.m.

Making it to a state final is a monumental achievement itself, but to make it this far with all of the challenges that 2020 has brought is a testament to the Cardinals’ character in the eyes of second-year coach Matthew Britton.

“It speaks huge on the boys’ character, I mean mentally how strong we’ve become,” he said. “That was one of my focal points when we came in was to improve the mental toughness of this group. They have showcased that over this season, because how could you not be mentally strong and make it to the state championship in this absurd year.

“From not even knowing if we were going to have a season, to at any moment your season could be cancelled, to now we’re in the state final. I mean it just shows absurd character.”

The Cardinals have been firing on all cylinders throughout their tournament run. They’ve outscored their opposition 29-0 throughout the postseason and have posted seven straight clean sheets since their regular season finale against archrival Ursuline. Mooney last surrendered a goal against Crestview in a 1-1 draw.

“It’s something that I’ve challenged the boys to every game. I was like it has to be a defensive effort, that our opponents do not score,” Britton said. “Lluckily our offense has responded while our defensive has just shut out opponents. Our offense has responded with a lot of outbursts.”

That includes a 1-0 win over a strong Ottawa Hills team in the state semifinal on Wednesday.

“I mean, this past game against Ottawa Hills, I mean that was a phenomenal team in itself. We were able to net just one goal, because to tell you the truth, we weren’t conceding a goal,” Britton said. “We have a setup that’s an extremely difficult setup to break down and it’s shown all year, teams cannot break us down and we’re hoping that carries into (today).”

Freshman goalkeeper Aidan Markey (47 saves) has played well between the posts, along with sophomore centerbacks Patrick Dambrogio and Dante DeGenova, who have remained stolid.

The sophomore duo helps set up plays for outside backs sophomore Antonio D’Alesio and freshman Nick Pregibon.

Offensively, Mooney is led by senior Brian Philibin (22 goals, 10 assists), junior Savvas Pizanis (13 goals, nine assists), senior Justin Durkin (13 goals, eight assists), and sophomore Chris Philibin (11 goals, 11 assists).

Cincinnati Mariemont (22-0) is currently the top-ranked team in the state, and is coming off a 5-0 blowout over Wheelersburg in the state semifinal round. The Warriors own a 27-7 difference on goals throughout their playoff run.

Britton, a former player for Xavier University in Cincinnati is all too familiar with the Mariemont program.

“This year they are a very athletic group as they always are, they have got great athletes that play,” he said. “With that being said, this is an athletic group for Mariemont, they’ve got a couple of exceptional players. They’re 22-0 for a reason and they were ranked number one in the entire state for a reason.

“They’re an exceptional group of young men, and for us to come out successful, we’re going to have to play one the best games of our season.”

Staying composed is a key to victory in Britton’s eyes, but Mooney has some history to uphold.

Eighteen years ago, senior Pat Walker scored a pair of goals with help from sophomore Kiki Willis to guide the Cardinals past Columbus St. Francis DeSales, 2-1, at the then-Crew Stadium in the Division II title match, for the only boys soccer state title in history for the Mahoning Valley.

Mooney lost 1-0 during overtime at the Division II state final against Pataskala Watkins Memorial back in 2004, and dropped a 1-0 contest via a shootout in the Division III title game against Jamestown Greenview to cap off the 2005 season.

Cardinal Mooney won’t be the only program representing the Mahoning Valley this afternoon, with Division II Howland playing immediately after the Cardinals’ match concludes.

Howland was one of the only two teams to defeat Mooney this season with a 7-0 win at YSU, but Britton is rooting for the Tigers just as hard as he’s rooting for his team.

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