By Eric Shultz, Staff Writer, Citizens’ Voice / Published: October 13, 2018
It quickly becomes clear that Dallas vs. Lake-Lehman boys soccer isn’t like most rivalries.
Though the schools’ proximity to each other makes them natural rivals, the Mountaineers and Black Knights still gather as one before kicking off. Before everything’s decided on the field, they’re all reminded of the namesake of their annual game: the Cleary Cup.
The teams play in honor of 1st Lieutenant Michael J. Cleary, who died at 24 while serving for the Army in Iraq in December 2005. The Cleary Cup was established the next fall in honor of the sacrifice made by the former Dallas boys soccer player.
Each year since, Cleary’s father briefly addresses the two sides before the game and is there for the trophy presentation afterward. The tradition will continue tonight at 6 when Lake-Lehman hosts the 13th annual Cleary Cup.
“I hope that the kids are listening to what he says, and they understand the significance of sacrifices made,” Lake-Lehman coach Mike Kostrobala said. “I think that happens. The day before we play Dallas, I make sure we sit down and talk about the game.”
“Obviously, the freshmen are new to (the game),” Dallas coach Chris Scharff said. “But after the first year … they totally understand.”
Both coaches were around for the inaugural game but knew all about Cleary well before then.
Cleary, a Class of 1999 graduate, was a senior captain in Scharff’s first year coaching the Mountaineers. Scharff recalled Cleary as a nice and dedicated kid who flashed a competitive side on the field.
“Tough-nosed. Very fiery. Hard worker, gritty,” the coach said. “So, definitely captain-worthy.”
Kostrobala got an up-close look at all those traits, too — as an opponent.
A Lake-Lehman player, Kostrobala grew up around Cleary from their Little League days to when they were members of the same club soccer program. When it came to high school, though, they were on opposite ends of the Back Mountain rivalry.
The Black Knights’ coach remembers going toe-to-toe in the midfield with Cleary, a “feisty player,” one season.
“He was just one of those kids to play against that, you didn’t look forward to it. You knew he was going to be coming at you for 80 minutes,” Kostrobala said. “He wasn’t the biggest kid out there, but he played like it.”
Several years later, both coaches were on hand as the rival schools began remembering Cleary each season. The game has taken off, and Kostrobala noted the local soccer community simply refers to Dallas vs. Lake-Lehman as the Cleary Cup at this point.
As for the actual game, those on hand tonight could be on hand for an entertaining matchup.
Lake-Lehman’s first and only win in the series came in 2015, a 1-0 victory. Dallas has since regained control of the trophy with a 2-0 win and a 5-1 performance last year.
But this time, there’s enough firepower for either side to take control of the game.
Zach Holthaus’ 22 goals through Thursday makes him one of the top scorers in the WVC and the offensive leader for Dallas, tied for second in Division 1 (9-2-1). Eight of the Mountaineers’ wins, plus their tie, have come in shutout fashion with Kyle Greenwood guarding the net.
Lake-Lehman, meanwhile, is third in Division 2 (8-2-2) and on a seven-game unbeaten streak behind Mike Bulzoni’s 19 goals and nine assists, and Max Paczewski’s 12 goals and seven assists.
Once the clock begins ticking, all eyes will be on those key players and more. Though this isn’t a typical rivalry game — and, because of classifications, it doesn’t affect the WVC standings — the will to win is just as big in the Cleary Cup.
“Fortunately for us it’s gone our way,” Scharff said of the overall series. “We don’t want to lose each year.”
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