On June 17, the West Florida Flames travelled to Greenville, South Carolina to compete in the USYS Southern Regional Championships, which they won.

On May 23, the U18 West Florida Flames (WFF) boys soccer team out of Brandon secured their second consecutive Florida Youth State Championship after winning in Auburndale. On June 17, they then travelled to Greenville, South Carolina to compete in the USYS Southern Regional Championships, which consisted of the best teams in the 11 southern states. They went undefeated and were crowned champions in the U18 bracket after winning six games over seven days, a first for the club. The team is now ranked fourth in the nation.

“When we won states, it was still a huge achievement for us, being back-to-back state champs, something that has never been done before in WFF history,” said left back and team captain Spencer Gangwer. “Everyone on the team knew that we had only just begun our journey. Winning regionals was a whole different feeling—it was something that none of us had ever experienced before, and when the final whistle blew, the feeling was just surreal. When we faced adversity in states and regionals, not a single player shied away from the challenge, but rather raised their level and exceeded expectations, which led us to the gold. I really have to hand it to my players because they all stepped up to the plate in states and regionals.”

The majority of this group have played together for five years under Head Coach Juan Garcia, and many of them have committed to playing college soccer.

“To accomplish something of this level with my team meant the world to me,” said defender Matt Almond. “These guys have been more than my teammates; we’ve all grown together as a family and accomplished so much together.”

Gangwer, who was also the team captain for the George Jenkins High School varsity soccer team in Lakeland, will attend Florida State University (FSU) to study mechanical engineering and plans on playing for the FSU club soccer team with Almond, who also plans on attending FSU. Almond was a four-year starter for the Newsome High School varsity soccer team and was a team captain his senior year.

“The thing I will miss most about West Florida Flames is the environment where everyone continuously pushes each other, whether it be the coaches pushing us to get better or even the players helping the coaches better themselves as well,” said Almond. “The club has an incredible positive learning atmosphere.”

Gangwer, Almond and their teammates have left a mark on the West Florida Flames soccer club for years to come. Gangwer will take away a lot from this experience and will miss playing with his teammates.

“To win states and regionals was a huge accomplishment, both for our team and the club. We have left a legacy at the club and helped put it on the map,” said Gangwer. “As a captain, I could not be more proud of this team and everything we had overcome during the season. To my team—thank you for believing in our visions and making them a reality. I will never forget the times we had both on and off the field. Each and every one of you will be my brothers for life, and I could not be more proud to call you my teammates.”

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.