No one expected them to be there, on that soccer field, in that championship match. Not even the players themselves.
“We didn’t think we even had a team, honestly,” said Sebastian Gray, a midfielder. “We lost eight seniors from last year. We had one senior and two sophomores. We were kind of a slapped together team.”
This from the guy who scored the sudden-death overtime winning goal in the semifinal match to send his team to their first ever TAPPS state championship game. No, the Dallas International School Tigres were not picked by many to win the high school fall state championship, but they did, rewriting the history of the school that many of the players had studied at since they could walk.
“I feel like our biggest strength was our chemistry,” said Giovanni Barbosa, a forward on the team. “We’ve always had good chemistry. Some of us have been together for a really long time. Sebastian and I have played on the same team since first grade.”
Alex Gassin, the team’s goalkeeper, agreed.
“The most important thing that got us to the final was the chemistry with each other,” Gassin said. “Even the people that we haven’t known for a long time, we became good friends. The small school helped with that. We know how everyone else plays.”
That chemistry and camaraderie drove everyone to stick together through some early-season struggles. Not only had the team lost most of its experienced players from the previous season, but the focus and organization needed in a championship team was lacking in the first few practices and games.
“Some of us were new, and some had played together for the past few years,” said right back Chase Fitzpatrick, a newcomer to the team. “There were only two small practices at the beginning of the season, so it was a bit hard to get on the same page.”
“We never really got to practice it felt like,” said Julian Greil, a defenseman. “It wasn’t really organized.”
But despite the rough-and-tumble start to the season, the wins began to come. That harmony that each player raved about shone through, and the scoreboard testified at the end of each contest that something was going right.
“I think we realized just how good we could be after we lost to Bethesda,” Barbosa said. “We could have beat them. That was our toughest competition, but we felt like we could beat them, even though we lost 4-2.”
Bethesda Christian School would later be the recipient of the Sebastian Gray golden goal in the semifinals. But we’re not there yet.
“Other than Bethesda, we were consistently winning games,” said forward Emma Stringer. “We realized, hey, maybe we aren’t so bad.”
The Tigres rode that wave of unexpected competence all the way to the state tournament, where they had been before, but had often trekked home early after a first-round exit. This time, the team decided it wasn’t going to be enough just to make the tournament, collect their ribbon and hop on the bus.
“The fact that we were going to lose never went through my head,” Barbosa said. “I always had the thought that we were going to win it all.”
“We always had the mentality of ‘when we win,’” Gray said. “Our teachers and other people kept saying ‘well, if you win’ and we said, ‘no, when we win.’ We never doubted.”
Gray’s header into the back of the net sunk Bethesda in the semifinals. The 3-2 final in the championship match against Kingsville Pan-Am was perhaps not quite as thrilling, but it was much more historic. When the final seconds ticked down on the Tigres’ first-ever championship, the entire team sprinted aimlessly onto the field, delirious with joy and, perhaps, just a little bit of disbelief.
“I couldn’t believe that we actually did it,” said Omar Ashour, the lone senior on the team. “It was my first year, and I couldn’t believe that we could actually win it all. No one expected us to do it. But here we were.”
Pictures were taken of each team member receiving their championship medal. The man with the privilege of bestowing each of them with their prize is the same man whom the players credited as “the real MVP” of the season: Coach Sergio Franklin.
“I’ll tell you this,” Greil said. “No one wanted to disappoint Coach Sergio. No one.”
“He’s been a coach who has supported us throughout the season,” Fitzpatrick said. “He knew how good we could be, which is why he was so hard on us.”
The DIS Tigres’ 2016 soccer season was sometimes frustrating, occasionally promising and ultimately exhilarating. They were a gumbo of personalities, positions and backgrounds, but they came together to shock the state and bring home the first-ever championship trophy to campus. Now, only one goal remains.
“I want our legacy to be remembered,” Fitzpatrick said