ARGOS — Three, oh three. It’s a magic number.
Few things are more venerated in the world of sport than the three-peat — the hat trick, the three-time champion. Argos’ boys soccer team managed just such a feat when it rattled off its third consecutive sectional title against Bremen Saturday with a 4-2 victory over the Lions that was closer than the final score appeared.
The sectional three-peat is the mark of program dominance, but lest you start thinking it’s been an easy ride, think again.
The Dragons had to rally back from a 2-1 deficit midway through the second half against Bremen, and they didn’t get their insurance goal until Damon Binkley’s second score of the night off a Sean Mullaney assist in the game’s final minute.
“It’s happened three years in a row, and I suppose there’s a perception that it’s easy,” said Argos boys soccer coach Todd VanDerWeele. “None of them have been easy. Every year there’s been a tough Bremen side. Each one’s been difficult. Because we’ve had such a strong following and because the kids have had to work so hard, I think that’s what’s probably helped propel us beyond that through the regional.”
“It’s always nice to win it, and the kids realize they have to work hard, and the coaches of course work hard. We don’t take it for granted because we know that after you’ve won one or two, somebody always wants what you have,” VanDerWeele added.
The Lions have given the Dragons a run for their money in each of Argos’ last three sectional title runs. In 2011, the Dragons ended a 10-year championship drought with the narrowest of 3-2 victories via penalty kicks versus Bremen in the Culver Sectional championship game. Last year, Argos edged out the Lions in a 1-0 sectional championship battle, and over the weekend, the Dragons found themselves trailing late after a pair of scores by Danny Reynoso and Sam Lacher in the 49th and 62nd minutes.
But Binkley scored his first goal on a Chase Brown helper in the 67th minute, and Dominic Cataldo punched in another score for the go-ahead less than a minute later. The game remained close until Binkley put the game out of reach on Mullaney’s assist in the 80th minute.
It’s a sectional rivalry that’s become one for the ages.
“It was a really intense game. It really did go right down to the end,” said VanDerWeele of Saturday’s sectional finale. “That insurance goal, it was like 45 seconds to go, so there was that much time between our third and fourth goals where we were really sweating trying to hold that off.
“I consider us lucky. Bremen was every bit our match that day.”
Many of the players on this year’s roster were present for the program’s last two runs through regional in 2011 and 2012 — junior striker Binkley is a holdover from those two repeat regional squads, as are seniors Max Bailey and Cataldo, who also scored goals Saturday, to name just a few. The Dragons have been down but not out in several of those tournament tilts, and they know how to play from behind.
“We’ve got quite a few kids that have played not just in the battles with Bremen, but in the regional runs,” VanDerWeele said. “I don’t know what it is inside them — I don’t know if it’s the experience or if they get behind and they think ‘Oh, this could be it so let’s just relax and go for it.’ They give it every bit of energy they have, and luckily we’ve been able to come out of some very dire straits.”
With Saturday’s third straight sectional title in tow, Argos now advances to the Peru Regional, where it hopes to defend its regional championship when it opens with Oak Hill Thursday at 7 p.m.
It’s another rivalry match for the Dragons, who eliminated Oak Hill 5-3 in last year’s regional championship game, and VanDerWeele expects another nip-tuck affair against an Eagles squad led by senior striker Gerritt Taylor.
“I don’t know a whole lot about them. I’ve scouted them a little around the internet. What I do know is this is the third year that we’ve played them in the regional, and we’ve beaten them two years in a row, so I would expect a similar kind of intensity and response from them as we got from Bremen,” said the Dragons boss. “I just hope we can be ready to play.”