From the first day of preseason practice, the Hand boys soccer team embraced the ideas of winning a fourth consecutive Class L state championship.
The Tigers took on the philosophy of focusing on each game and what those meant in order to get them to where they are today: on the brink of that fourth straight title. Only No. 10 seed Wilton stands in the way on Saturday at Dillon Stadium in Hartford at 3 p.m.
“It’s truly just an honor. There were so many captains and seniors before me who have worked hard,” Hand senior Spencer Hartmann said. “It truly means the world to this program to live on and keep pushing, keeping the memory and the hard work they put in alive.”
After a span of 19 years in between appearances in a state final, no one currently in the program has lost a state tournament game. In fact, Hand, the No. 4 seed this year, has won 16 straight games after eliminating Guilford in the semifinals on Monday night.
“The target gets bigger and bigger every single year,” senior Cole Finke said. “It feels like a weight (on our shoulders). We have to knock that weight down and play as hard as we can. Even though there is a weight, we can’t even think about that. We have to think about connecting passes, everything.”
Staples was the last team to accomplish what Hand will be trying to do on Saturday. The Wreckers actually won five straight from 1969-73 in Class L when there were just three divisions. The 1970 title was a co-championship with Conard.
The teams to come the closest to the four-peat under the current four-division format were Guilford and Avon. The Indians won Class L from 1976-78, then fell in the 1979 final to South Windsor. Avon won Class M from 1987-89, then fell to Barlow in the 1990 final.
“We try to motivate the guys by mentioning the history of the program and the recent history,” Hand coach Greg Cumpstone said. “We want to make our own history every single season. It’s a new challenge for us this season, for this group of guys to win a state championship rather than to just get a four-peat. We want these boys to enjoy the history that they are making.”
Wilton finds itself in similar territory to Hand in 2016. Wilton has not won a state championship since 1998, and this is the Warriors’ first appearance since 2004.
“In comparison to what we did last year (four wins), anything we got out of FCIACs and the states is a bonus,” first-year coach Edwin Carvajal said. “Now that we have gotten this far, it would hurt a lot to lose now with all the work we have put in.”
Wilton defeated Branford, Maloney, Barlow and Wethersfield en route to the final.
“This team has an amazing amount of talent. It was a matter of putting people in the right spots,” said Carvajal, who played for Wilton from 2006-09 and returned to be on the staff in 2014 before becoming the head coach in the off-season. “Everyone is entitled to win, but not everyone earns it.”
Carvajal knows plenty about Hand forward Scott Testori.
“I see their striker being a huge threat to our back line, which tends not to be awake from the get-go,” he said.
Cumpstone has some concerns as well.
“I know they have some good players. We will try to neutralize them and hopefully accentuate our own positives,” Cumpstone said.
If those things happen, Hand very well could be celebrating not only a fourth consecutive state championship, but the program’s seventh overall.
“We have the heart, we’ve got the experience. We’ve been doing this how many years? Eleven dogs on the field. That’s how we play,” Finke said.