Drenched, shivering and nearly covered in mud by the end of Friday night, Mission Prep boys soccer players couldn’t have been happier.
The Royals defeated Woodlake 1-0 in a nonstop downpour of rain in San Luis Obispo, winning the CIF-Central Section Division V championship and putting the final touches on their unbeaten season — the first in school history.
They took a traditional victory lap with the championship plaque, but also took advantage of the conditions for something of a victory slip-and-slide. Players raced all at once in a straight line toward more than 100 Mission Prep fans huddled underneath a school awning before diving in unison chest-first into the mud to celebrate.
“I’m freezing, but I think winning took care of it,” Royals midfielder Neal Hetzel said of the moment. “It doesn’t get much better than this. It’s a perfect end to a perfect season.”
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Literally. Mission Prep, the division’s No. 1 seed, is now 23-0, having scored 91 goals and giving up just nine.
The contest was scoreless after a physical, evenly played first half, in which the Royals were unable to capitalize on having a man advantage after Woodlake (15-5-3), the No. 2 seed, was dealt a red card.
Mission Prep found its goal in the 59th minute, as Hetzel deftly placed a pass off the crossbar, setting up Noah Munds for a soaring header that caught the Tigers off-guard.
“He’s a little guy, but he can sky,” Royals coach Bob Galarneau said.
It was only fitting that the lone score came in the air, as both teams struggled mightily to find any offensive rhythm or cohesion.
“No one could dribble,” Mission Prep defender Brian McAllen said. “No one could do anything. We were lucky we got a good opportunity.”
Royals goalkeeper Joey Miller collected 10 saves in earning his 14th shutout of the season.
“He was phenomenal,” Hetzel said of Miller. “Especially with how wet it was, I’m amazed he didn’t let go of the ball.”
Galarneau, who has been an assistant for the Cal Poly women’s program for the past seven years and has an extensive background dating back to his playing days with Lusitano Portuguese America FC from 1980 to 1986, said the rain was about as immense as he can remember experiencing during a game.
“I’ve coached and played a lot of games in inclement weather back East,” he said, “but never this much rain. Out in the middle of the field, there were like six inches of water. It was something.”
On occasion, puddles splashed above players’ heads, while the ball rarely ever rolled beyond a dozen yards without suddenly losing traction and sticking in a patch of mud.
“It was chaotic,” Hetzel said. “It felt like we were little kids again, playing school-yard soccer.”
Despite the conditions, Miller never slipped, coming up with the last of his saves in the final two minutes.
“Every shot (Woodlake) took, my heart stopped,” Miller said. “(The weather) was insane. You’d kick the ball and it’d go like two feet. It was completely unpredictable.”
The school will now await an invitation to the regional tournament.
“I’m sure we’ll be in the running for it,” Galarneau said.
Among the Royals’ victories this year were five over Los Padres League foes and two over PAC 7 neighbors. Also on the Royals’ résumé is a Silver Division “A” bracket title at the prestigious Garces Holiday Soccer Festival in Bakersfield in December.
A year ago, the Royals went 12-9-1 in Galarneau’s first year with the team, falling in the division semifinals.
“In the preseason,” Galarneau said, “I told them, ‘We can go 22-0 or 23-0, or we can go 11-11 or whatever. It’s going to be up to you guys.’ We had so much potential.
“What I’m feeling is satisfaction for these guys,” he continued. “This (game) was like the epitome of our season. We battled through a lot of things, and to do this, to be 23-0, it’s fantastic.”