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SJCS soccer players help CESA U15 team win national title

By Bob Castello
SJCS Director of Communications

It was well worth the wait.

SJCS rising sophomores Connor Flannigan, Thomas Flannigan and Patrick Kucaba and their Carolina Elite Soccer Academy Under-15 teammates had played together "forever."

Then they had hung around for three hours while thunder delayed the start of Sunday's Elite Clubs National League championship match in St. Louis.

But when the time finally came, CESA's U15 team rallied in the second half and defeated Charlotte Soccer Academy 2-1 to win the national championship -- the first in the 18-year history of tradition-rich CESA.

"If you had told me we were going to win the national championship when we were going into this tournament, I don't think I would have believed you," Thomas Flannigan said. "I got goosebumps when we won. It was unreal."

"It was really awesome," said Connor Flannigan. "I got chills each time we scored."

CESA outscored four opponents (from New Jersey, Texas, Michigan and Colorado) by a combined 15-0 to win the regional in Greensboro, North Carolina, and advance to the eight-team national tournament.

In St. Louis, CESA opened with a 2-0 victory against a team from the state of Washington. Then came a game against a team from Raleigh that was scoreless through regulation and overtimes and decided on penalty kicks.

"The semifinal was a lot more stressful than the final," Patrick Kucaba said. "I had to take one of the PKs, and it was pretty scary."

Patrick was one of four CESA players who converted their kicks. Two Raleigh players missed, including the last whose shot hit the post, sending CESA to the final.

The championship match, scheduled for 8:30 AM, didn't begin until 11:30 due to the delays. Connor said the heat by that time was "pretty brutal."

Charlotte scored on a free kick and led 1-0 at halftime.

"I hit the crossbar 10 minutes into the second half," Patrick said. "We knew we could do it. We kept fighting, and eventually we got our goals."

When the match ended, Brando Bedolla, who scored both goals for CESA, became the center of the celebration.

"We just ran to him and got in a big dogpile," Patrick said. "It was pretty cool."

Even though he was unable to play because of a knee injury, Thomas Flannigan said he enjoyed the ride. He helped the team get to the tournament and played through the St. Joe's season but had knee surgery in May.

"Even though I couldn't play, I had to support my team," he said. "I was the mental strength of the team."

To have three Knights on the national championship team is obviously a source of pride for the St. Joe's program.

"That's a huge deal," said St. Joe's boys soccer coach Frank Kucinic. "National ECNL is the highest classification of leagues and team play in the country, and for them to win it in their age group is huge."

"I love playing for Coach K," Connor said. "He's so much fun to play for and be coached by."

"School soccer is so much fun," said Patrick. "It's so much less stressful than playing for a club. Having those two teammates to play with, it's fun to share the CESA and school atmosphere with them."

And sharing a national championship has provided a lasting memory.

"I think seven of us have been playing with each other for eight years," Patrick said. "We've basically been with each other forever, so it was great. We'll remember it for a long time."