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April 6, 2014

MIDDLE SCHOOL SOCCER: Cullman concludes dominant season with North Alabama Championship

CULLMAN — Cullman’s athletic program has manufactured its fair share of quality teams over the past few months.

Mark Britton’s football squad, Bobby Meyer’s “Fast32” group and Brent Patterson’s playoff-bound Bearcats — just to name a few — have all had or are having very successful campaigns for  Cullman in their respective sports.

So, too, are the Black and Gold’s varsity soccer teams.

The boys 8-4-2 hold a No. 8 ranking in the Alabama High School Coaches’ Poll in Class 5A, while the Lady Cats are just outside the top 10 with a respectable 10-4-3 mark.

However, despite the present-day success, the Bearcats and their soccer contingent might be more excited — or downright elated — about what’s coming up through the younger ranks.

Just ask coach Branch Whitlock, who stood front and center during his middle school squad’s dominant 2014 campaign on the soccer pitch.

“We played incredible soccer all year long,” he said. “We had a great team and played great as a team, too. In my opinion, I think we are the state champions.”

Cullman opened its year with a 3-0 showing and title trophy at its annual Middle School Invitational before a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Oak Park — which turned out a blessing in disguise for the young kids on the pitch.

After that loss, the Black and Gold played a nearly perfect brand of soccer.

Whitlock’s team reeled off 14 straight triumphs, including a North Alabama West Regional Championship — they avenged their loss to Oak Park — to set up a colossal showdown with undefeated Discovery for the North Alabama Super Regional Championship.

No problem whatsoever.

The Bearcats took them down 3-2 to collect the prestigious title of “state’s best” and finish their season at a terrific 17-1.

“I’m just so proud of the work ethic and dedication to soccer and themselves,” Whitlock said. “I even had a couple of players leave their spring break trip early to play in the championship.”

It’s not very difficult to see the utter dominance displayed by this particular group, either. Just look at the tremendous stats.

The Bearcats booted at least five goals in 13 of 18 matches, won 14 of those by four goals or more and held their foes to a single goal or less in 13 of those wins as well.

“We beat everyone we played in dominant fashion,” Whitlock said. “If I could have taken us further south to play someone, I would have. Officially, we’re the North Alabama Champions, but I’m going to get them shirts that say state champs. They have earned that distinction in my mind.”

Two players that stood out for the Black and Gold were Isaac Rodriguez — NW AL Tournament MVP — and Miguel Tizapa — North AL Super Regional Championship MVP — both of whom Whitlock says “have a great chance to play college soccer.”

“They are really good eighth-grade players,” the coach said. “You’ll be hearing a lot about both over the next few seasons. Miguel is a magician with the ball. Isaac has power and speed I think is unmatched. It was a blessing to have those guys play for me this season. That goes for everyone else, too.”

Will Kress and goalkeeper Jaron Potter headed up a solid Cullman defense, while Parker Van Dyke, Tucker Adkison, Zane Manley, Anton Eribacher, Neil Norris, Kevin Killen, Jastin Gonzalez and Jady Pipes were all solid contributors for the squad all season.

“It was just a great year and a great team,” Whitlock said.

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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