The Stanhope Elmore boys soccer team had clear expectations entering the 2019 season. The Mustangs had their eyes set on the Class 6A Final Four where they would compete for a state championship in Huntsville.
After another successful regular season, Stanhope saw its season fall two wins short of that goal and coach Johanna Angelo is still feeling the effects from the 3-2 home loss which ended those title hopes.
“I’m still having a hard time with it honestly,” Angelo said. “I still can’t look at this season as a whole. I’m trying to figure out what went wrong. They were just so good so I’m still angry about it and really disappointed — not with the players at all, just with how it ended.”
Despite the bitter finish, the Mustangs had plenty of positives to look at during their sixth consecutive season with double digit victories, the longest streak in program history. Angelo, who is the Elmore County Boys Soccer Coach of the Year, led Stanhope to its fifth consecutive section title and to its seventh postseason win during that span.
The Mustangs started the season as one of the hottest teams in the state, winning seven of their first eight matches. Stanhope responded to its first defeat of the season, a 2-0 loss against Prattville, with a pair of one-goal victories against Opelika and Pelham.
“I think we’ve been making little nicks over the last three years to take those steps,” Angelo said. “We beat Enterprise, we took Homewood down to the final minute and then we won at Pelham this year. Pelham was just one more on a list of goals and steps we want to reach as a program.”
Pelham finished the season as one of the Final Four teams in 6A and was one of several quality wins for Stanhope during the 2019 season. The Mustangs grabbed 11 wins over teams which made the state tournament and drew against Enterprise, the eventual runner-up in Class 7A.
With the regular season performances, Angelo felt the team was prepared for a postseason run but the results in the playoffs showed otherwise. After sneaking by Opelika in a penalty shootout in the first round, the Mustangs were eliminated by Benjamin Russell, a team they beat twice in the regular season.
“We didn’t look like the same team at all,” Angelo said. “Until I’m in Huntsville in May, I don’t know how much those little steps on the ladder really help us.”
While the disappointment still lingers over the Mustangs, Angelo said she believes it can begin to move on as workouts and practice games begin during the summer. She admitted the disappointment only comes when you have those high expectations but you have to go through it to become a better program.
Angelo had a large group of upperclassmen which helped lead to the team’s success this season. However, some of the biggest changes and discoveries the coaching staff made was crucial in building some young talent.
“It was really nice to find Arly (Ramirez) for the center defensive mid position,” Angelo said. “He’s younger but I put him in as a sub one game and he said he really liked it. That was a huge support for us and allowed me to push Cristo (Rocha) up into the attack some more.”
Angelo was already talking about the impact Ramirez as well as expected returners Dylan Presciti and Wilder Menjivar will have on next year’s team. However, that will not make things any easier when the Mustangs lose a class of 13 players including team captains Cristo Rocha and Rigan Stewart and Maicol Torres, the team’s leading goal scorer.
“I don’t know what I’ll do without some of those characters in that group,” Angelo said. “They were always great and we had some of the best parents. The soccer community in Millbrook has become such a part of my identity so losing this big of a group is going to be hard.”