The fun is in the winning, for perennial contenders and newcomers alike. But there is something especially satisfying about beginning a season with modest expectations, then putting your program on the proverbial map.
When you’re able to hang a new banner in the gym or put a plaque inside the trophy case for the first time, that winning feeling is unlike any that follows.
Triton Regional High School’s boys soccer program pulled that off this fall. A four-year process that saw the team rise in relevance in South Jersey culminated in the first sectional championship in school history when the Mustangs defeated Ocean City 3-0 in the South Jersey Group 3 final on Nov. 8.
“They’re all positive,” Triton Coach Bryan Ekstrom said of what made his team special this season. “We don’t have anyone who is negative or someone picking on the other guys, the things that can bring teams down.
“They’re all very positive, they’re all very supportive of each other, which is great.”
Before playing for a chance to advance to the Group 3 state championship last week, three of Triton’s veteran players spoke with South Jersey Sports Weekly about what’s been an unforgettable season.
SJSW: South Jersey champions. What does it mean when you hear that?
Myles Denton: It means everything we’ve worked for in the last four years has been worth the while. I remember my freshman and sophomore years, I saw really good teams — it was the first time we’d won the conference in 35 years my freshman year. So I looked up to them and now I’m a senior and I know the guys younger than us are looking up to what we did, and we’re making history. It’s cool to see.
SJSW: When did you think something like this was possible?
Aiden Sommers: Probably from the beginning of the season. We thought we had a decent shot at doing something, but when we beat Clearview, at Clearview, that definitely got it into our heads that we could do it. They were undefeated.
Austin Amberg: It was a team effort. We came in and we knew how good they were and all that they had accomplished. I guess we just wanted it more than them, we wanted to prove ourselves.
SJSW: I would think another important step was beating Mainland (SJ Group 3 semifinals), since that’s the team that you’d run into in the playoffs each year.
Denton: We kind of called it a curse. I was at both games, losing to them in the playoffs, but at their place and at 2 p.m., so they let their school out and everyone was there watching the game. It was intimidating being in that position, and both games we got blown out, 5-0 and 7-0. It was crushing. Everyone walked off the field angry and crying. The whole bus ride home was even worse. Completely quiet. So when they came to our field and we did that to them, it was revenge for all of those years.
SJSW: I was talking to your coach and he was saying one of the keys to this team is the chemistry, how everyone gets along, is positive, and there aren’t any bad seeds.
Denton: It was hard for us at first. We lost 11 seniors, pretty much the whole team. We had to bring a lot of guys up. But I think from the way we practice, we’re not joking around but everyone has fun when we practice. We work hard, we sweat together and in the end it all comes together.
SJSW: Let’s get to some fun questions. If there’s a 1-v-1 with the goalie, whom on your team do you want with the ball?
Amberg: Tyler Guandagno.
Denton: Definitely him, he has the most skill.
Sommers: Probably Ty.
SJSW: Who is the toughest player on your team?
Amberg: Probably one of these two. Aiden is up there because all year he was playing an attacking role and then for playoffs they moved him back and he had no problem with it, playing defense, doing what’s best for the team. And Myles has been holding it down all season back there.
Denton: I’d say our keeper, Joe (Biljic). He’s been shaken up a few times0, he’s gotten hit, but he still plays every game. We haven’t let up a goal in the playoffs (through the sectional championship game) and that was because of him; he comes out and does crazy stuff.
Sommers: I’d say Ryan Gale. He’s gotten, I don’t want to say hurt, but he’s had to come out of the game and he always returns.
SJSW: Smartest player on the team?
Amberg: I’d have to go with Aiden. Not saying book smart or anything, but knowing what to do with the ball.
SJSW: It could be either or, book smart or soccer smart.
Amberg: Well we’ve got No. 2 in the class right there. [Points at Denton]
Denton: Yeah if we’re going book smart, I don’t want to brag but I’m up there. For soccer smarts, Aiden and Ty. Ty in the midfield just navigates and dribbles past everybody. It’s mesmerizing to watch him play sometimes.
SJSW: Funniest player on the team?
Sommers: [Laughs] I’d probably say Jeremy Pfiffer or Ryan Gale.
Amberg: I would say Max, Max Hawk. I have, since the beginning of the season, I’ve been keeping a list of all the dumb things that he’s been saying.
Amberg: I can’t wait to show it to him at the end of the year.
Denton: Jeremy is funny, too.
SJSW: How about your favorite team to play?
Denton: Probably Highland. Because if we win, I can rub it into them. I know a lot of kids on the team.
Sommers: If I had to pick one, probably Highland, but I also just like to play all of my friends from club (soccer).
Amberg: I’d say Highland, too. We just like beating them.
SJSW: If you could add any one player from South Jersey to Triton’s roster, who would you pick?
Denton: I’d probably add Kingsway’s striker (Sean Fatiga). He’s really fast.He put up some numbers against us in games I don’t want to talk about. (Editor’s note: Fatiga scored three goals in a game against Triton this year).
Sommers: Probably either Kyle Bartleson from (St. Augustine) Prep or Tommy Dawson from Hammonton.
Amberg: Judging off players we’ve played this year, I’d probably say (Fatiga), too. He’d give us an attacker.
SJSW: Who is the best team at Triton?
Amberg: Soccer, no question. [Laughs]
SJSW: Best athlete at Triton?
Denton: That guy. [Points at Sommers]. He plays like every sport and he’s probably better than half the kids that play in any sport.
Amberg: I’d probably say (Sommers). There are some others, maybe Joey Rubba.
SJSW: Any girls you want to nominate?
Amberg: Who plays a lot of sports? Nicky? Nicolette Tricocci. She’s on the soccer team and does track.
SJSW: Last question: If you advance to the state finals and every team gets to take the field to a song, what would Triton’s intro music be?
Denton: Austin, you definitely have to pick the song.
Amberg: Me? Pick a song? Honestly, there’s a song called “Shooters” by Tory Lanez. We’ve been listening to that all year.
Sommers: That’s a good one. That one or “Dreams and Nightmares” (by Meek Mill).