JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jason Cooley has led the Mandarin boys soccer program for 20 years and knows just how difficult finding success in the state playoffs can be.
He’s not looking that far ahead just yet, but Cooley sure likes what he’s seen from this year’s Mustangs team.
The Mandarin boys soccer team is 9-1 and riding an eight-game winning streak. The Mustangs are ranked 19th in the state by MaxPreps.
It handed Bolles its lone loss of the season and enters Wednesday’s showdown with Stanton in what could be a glimpse of next week’s Gateway Conference final. The Mustangs are averaging 5.2 goals a match and have seven shutouts.
It’s still way too early to talk state championships and final fours, but Cooley likens the technical skills on this year’s team to some of the best he’s coached.
“It’s a very technical team. You know, they come and go. High school [players] sometimes, not so technical, a little more bullish if you know what I mean,” Cooley said. “But we’ve had three final four teams and it compares with them.”
The Mustangs reached the state semifinals in 2010, ‘12 and ‘16, with the middle team playing for the Class 5A state championship. No Duval County public school program has managed to win a state title before. And the Mustangs aren’t thinking that just yet.
“To go far. Win state. But first we’ve got to look at Gateway. That’s our next match,” said junior forward Antonio Mancinotti, who leads Mandarin in scoring (21 goals, five assists). “It’s a tradition at the school to win Gateway. And for our team, we want to win as many trophies as we can as a team.”
That challenge begins next week, with Mandarin opening conference play against Westside or Paxon on Jan. 11. If the draw breaks as expected, the Mustangs would face Stanton for the second time in a week for the title.
“It’s been an easy team to coach, you know what I mean? Because they’re very competitive and that’s the thing I’ve noticed. When you see teams from Bolles, Stanton, Fletcher, all the teams that have had, they’ve had long-term success as well,” Cooley said. “But when they’ve had success, their players were very competitive. … Whatever is going on, they’re competitive at. And these guys have that.”