Holland Hall is racking up wins, earning attention behind a strong boys' soccer senior class
The date was Feb. 10, 2007.
Members of the Holland Hall Prep (Tulsa, Okla.) boys' soccer team hoisted the Southwest Preparatory Conference Division II championship trophy, but they felt empty.
"No one wants to be in a team photo holding up nine fingers," Holland Hall coach Richard Hart said, referring to the Division II title as a consolation prize since the top eight teams compete for the Division I championship.
Almost two years later and with nearly half of that 2007 starting lineup intact, the only talk around Holland Hall is of fulfilling the goal of being No. 1 -- again. The Dutch (10-0-1) are the defending SPC Division I champions with a unique story. Holland Hall's lineup features four NCAA Division I-bound soccer players, and the school is one of only two in Oklahoma that plays winter high school soccer.
"I don't know how you heard about us -- no one has ever heard of us," Hart said with a laugh.
Holland Hall competes in the 18-team SPC. Sixteen conference members are located in Texas, with Holland Hall and Casady School in Oklahoma.
Traditionally, the level of play at the SPC schools is well behind that of the dominant UIL (University Interscholastic League, which governs Texas public schools) and the top-tier TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools).
Holland Hall is bucking that trend with a lineup that includes five members from the nationally ranked Tulsa Soccer Club. The Dutch made their ESPNRISE.com FAB 50 debut this week at No. 38. Seniors Denny Mask (UNC Greensboro), Joe Stall (Brown), Sid Stewart (Tulsa) and Jon Wright (Memphis) have verbally committed to Division I soccer programs. Senior Julian Frazier would have been a soccer recruit but opted for a track scholarship at Tulsa.
"It's the melding of club players with good athletes from other sports," Hart said in sizing up Holland Hall's team. "You could see this coming."
Climbing the mountain
In 2006 -- Hart's second season as head coach -- he started six freshmen, all with significant club experience, on varsity. Mask, Frazier, Stewart and Wright were among that group. The freshman-dominated lineup placed second in the Division II tournament in spring of 2006, setting up higher expectations for 2007.
A series of rescheduled games and unlucky breaks led to Holland Hall's playing its eight league matches in 11 days and resulted in a fifth-place division finish in 2007. The SPC, broken into North and South divisions, places the top four teams in each division in an eight-team Division I championship tournament. Teams finishing fifth through eighth in the two divisions play in the Division II tournament, where Holland Hall made its playoff run.
"Immediately, it was all eyes toward next year," Mask said. "We were looking forward to our junior year."
Holland Hall has a primary (preschool-third grade), middle (fourth-eighth grades) and upper (ninth through 12th grades) school format. All the team's key players have attended Holland Hall since at least seventh grade, with the exception of Stall, who joined the school as a junior.
Last season, Holland Hall went undefeated in SPC play and reached the Division I final, where it faced rival St. Mark's.
St. Mark's led 2-0 before Holland Hall mounted a rally in the final 10 minutes of regulation to draw even.
"The last 10 minutes, we made one final push," Stewart said. "We left the defensive responsibilities to two guys."
Stewart scored with 8:51 left, and Mask netted the tying goal three minutes later, setting up overtime.
"In the first overtime, Jonny Wright had a header off the bar and we had a couple [shots] go just wide," Stewart said. "The second overtime was the opposite. [St. Mark's] had most of the chances."
The contest went to penalty kicks. St. Mark's missed its first three attempts. Stall, Stewart and Wright converted for Holland Hall, giving the Dutch the title and sending the SPC Division I boys' soccer trophy to Oklahoma for the first time in more than a decade.
A lonely voice
Holland Hall has more NCAA Division I Class of 2009 soccer commitments than any high school in the country except Shattuck-St. Mary's, a residential academy in Faribault, Minn., and Downingtown West, a public school in Downingtown, Pa.
However, Holland Hall never gets to face the top programs in its state.
As a member of the SPC, Holland Hall, the league's northernmost school, is bound to play soccer in the winter season to line up with the league's Texas schools. The UIL and TAPPS also play winter soccer. Hart said Holland Hall's home matches often are played in near-freezing conditions.
Hart grew up in Minnesota, where soccer is contested in the winter. The Oklahoma public schools offer high school soccer in the spring.
Although four senior members of Holland Hall's team are teammates on the Tulsa SC OE91 club team, the rest of their club teammates are scattered among the local public schools.
"I'd like to play against them," Stewart said.
In assessing the teams, Stewart felt Holland Hall's top four players are stronger than at any public school in Oklahoma, but he felt the large public schools might have more depth around the field. After all, Holland Hall has about 85 students in its senior class. Traditional public school powers Jenks, Union and Broken Arrow have senior classes nearing 800 students.
Holland Hall went 20-1-2 last season. This year's team is undefeated and already has pinned a 5-1 defeat on St. Mark's. A championship and, perhaps, an undefeated season in 2009 are very possible for the Dutch, a fact that is not lost on the seniors.
As members of Tulsa SC, which has won the state cup title the past six years, Mask and Stewart said the excitement of a high school title drives them.
"Our best friends are at Holland Hall, and it was special bringing that trophy back with us," Mask said. "This is where we grew up."
"This year, there's more pressure on us," Stewart said. "We are the team to beat."
Wright, who was the team's leading scorer last season, has 16 goals and is within reach of the school's single-season mark of 21 goals. He already has passed the school's previous mark of 35 career goals.
Holland Hall has six regular-season matches remaining and needs to win just two, perhaps three, of those to qualify for the Division I championship. This year's SPC championships will be contested Feb. 13 and 14 in Houston, where Mask and Stewart, and the rest of the Holland Hall team, are planning to take another team photo -- this time holding up the No. 1 finger.
Sheldon Shealer covers youth soccer for ESPNRISE.com.
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