It’s not entirely original, but for the Totino-Grace boys’ soccer team, the motto has meant everything.
After its 4-0 victory in the Class 1A state quarterfinal Tuesday in Farmington, the team broke its post-match huddle by all reciting the phrase, “I am because we are,” a motto made famous by Nelson Mandela that translates to “Ubuntu” and was most recently and popularly adopted by the 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics.
Eagles coach Bill Vance said it boils down to playing for one another, and that ultimately the final collective result is more important than the individual path. That ideology has brought Totino-Grace to U.S. Bank Stadium, where it will meet Orono at noon Monday for a chance to play for a state title.
“We can’t be our best selves without one another,” Vance said. “We lean on each other and that’s the essence of what a team is.”
So far, it’s led to some eye-popping results wrapped in a one-loss regular season in which the Eagles (17-1-1) outscored their opponents 51-16 overall and 21-2 in the postseason.
The goals, Vance said, were expected. The question mark came at the back, where the Eagles were lacking much defensive varsity experience, but still have allowed goalkeeper Philip Ronza to post eight shutouts this year.
“Our defenders have really been committed, and Phil’s led them from the back,” Vance said. “We’re confident we can score, so the key is can we prevent our opponent from scoring. The longer we go in state tournaments the harder it is to score.”
What’s even better, Vance said, is how well that defense connects with the midfield trio of senior Collin Matzoll, senior Luke Lindsay and junior Parker Yeager, who then supply one of the most electric attacks in the state.
“It’s awesome,” said Matzoll, who Vance called one of the best two-way midfielders in the state. “It’s always fun because you never know who’s going to get the ball and go score. It’s awesome because everybody’s so talented.”
A two-headed forward combination of junior Herbert Endeley and sophomore Stevenson Lamarre have harassed opposing defenses all year. Endeley has scored 31 times, second most in the state, and assisted on another 13 goals, while Lamarre has notched 13 goals and five assists.
“I think they appreciate what’s put on your shoulders and share that together,” Vance said. “We also don’t have that if we don’t have our midfielders, because Collin and Luke and Parker are really strong at getting them the ball and pressuring the opponent.”
It’s also frankly a lot of fun, Matzoll said. That comes back to an atmosphere Matzoll likens to a family. Endless said that’s why the Eagles often are seen smiling and cracking jokes even during Tuesday’s 4-0 state quarterfinal win.
“Not only in games, but in practices and even in school, wherever we are with each other we’re having fun and cracking jokes,” Endeley said. “It’s always fun being with each other.”
That all comes back to the mottos, which Vance said Matzoll and Lindsay were the driving force of helping Totino-Grace buy in so fully. Matzoll said the Eagles started the year with three before settling on “I am because we are,” which has led them to conference and section titles and into their first state tournament since 2013.
Now, there’s just two more games to win for the program’s first state title.
“Collin and Luke Lindsay, both of those guys have willed this,” Vance said. “We always talk about conference, section, state, and those two guys have really taken that seriously and put the team before themselves when they could have been selfish if they wanted to.”