Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the night the Montgomery High boys soccer players had their collective hearts broken in the cruelest of ways.
After 98 minutes of scoreless soccer, the underdog Vikings were dispatched by a golden goal in the North Coast Section Division 2 final against Acalanes High. There were tears, there was anger, there was pain that night.
Saturday, there is hope of redemption.
The Vikings are again in the section title game. This time, they are not the underdog; this time, they are the No. 1 seed. This time, they are not playing on the home field of their opponent; this time, they are facing off on Rancho Cotate’s soccer field.
This time, the Vikings want it to be different.
Coach Jon Schwan returns the vast majority of his team from that night, and he knows the pain they went through, knows that it is a piece of what drove them to a 20-2-1 overall record and 14-0 in league this season to win their second consecutive North Bay League title.
“We do talk about the feelings and emotions that everybody was feeling that night; what it felt like to get to that spot and not just lose, but lose the way we did,” he said. “We did feel like there was unfinished business.”
For Schwan, it was both painful and prideful to see his players crushed by that loss.
“It’s a proud moment as a coach to see your players have that much emotion and have it mean that much to them,” he said.
But it’s not easy to endure.
“I don’t know if I can deal with that again,” he said.
In the way of a Vikings’ title is Richmond High. The Oilers (13-1-9 overall and 7-0-3 in league) knocked off a strong No. 2 seed Redwood 2-1 on Wednesday to earn a spot in Saturday's 7 p.m. title game in Rohnert Park.
The Oilers finished second in the TCAL-Rock league behind St. Mary’s to grab the No. 3 seed in NCS.
Montgomery lost to Redwood 2-1 in its season opener Nov. 29.
“They play hard,” Schwan said of the Oilers. “They really have a lot of pride in what they do. They are physical, they are big.”
In this relatively new, expanded postseason tournament in the winter, getting a look at recent game film of teams that Empire squads are unfamiliar with isn’t always easy.
“I haven’t seen them play since we watched them last year,” Schwan said Thursday. “We played them two years ago. I have a lot of respect for them and their program.”
Not having a ton of information on an opponent isn’t a great position to be in, but it can help a team focus on what they need to do as a unit, Schwan said.
“You focus on yourself, what did you do well, what can we do better,” he said.
The Vikings come into the game with a key advantage — experience. They are playing almost the same lineup they put on the field for the championship game last year. And on a night when emotions run high, having a level of familiarity can be crucial.