BOZEMAN, Mont. - For the second year in a row, the Belgrade boys soccer team lifted the Class A State Championship trophy.
The Panthers defeated Whitefish 4-0 on their home field Saturday to cap off the first perfect season in program history.
"It's amazing,” said senior midfielder Jared Rockwell. “It's what we've been working for all year, and it's just a great feeling."
"This feeling is just the best feeling in the world,” said senior defender and co-captain Javan Chisholm. “I've come (to the title game) all four years, and being able to win it two years in a row, it's just wonderful."
"We set a goal every single week, and completed that goal every week,” said senior forward and co-captain Jordan Schlauch. “This was our final goal, this is what we wanted all year. We wanted back-to-back."
"I think August 11th was the first day at 6 a.m.,” said head coach Ric Plante. “That's a lot of work from then until now, and I couldn't be more happy for (the players)."
Despite the final score line, it was a very competitive match.
The Panthers controlled possession in the first half, but the Bulldog defense held them scoreless in the opening 40 minutes.
Then in the 48th minute, a spectacular shot from Rockwell sailed into the net, sending his teammates into a frenzy.
"I saw the chance and I took it,” Rockwell said. “I was trying to score the whole game, and it just opened up. I was just so happy."
That goal opened up the Whitefish defense, as the Panthers tacked on three more, one from junior Joey Russell (60’) and two from Schlauch (51’, 66’).
But the Belgrade back line kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard, answering on every counter-attack.
"It's something that we worked on, shifting defensively,” Plante said. “They really came through."
The Panthers have now won back-to-back state titles in four straight championship game appearances under Plante, who is also the technical director for the Montana Youth Soccer Association.
"Everyone has a lot of respect for him,” Schlauch said. “He's a really good coach, he knows what he's talking about, and he knows how to coach every single one of us."
"Probably the best coach in Montana, truthfully,” Chisholm said. “He's phenomenal. He doesn't focus on trying to make us better soccer players, he's trying to make us better people. That, in turn, makes us the best team that we can possibly be."
Belgrade will now try to do something that no Class A boys program has ever done -- win three state championships in a row.