Specializing in many different positions on the soccer field, tenth-grader Stefan Slavov has been dominating every part of the sport for the past 10 years.
Slavov’s grandfather originally encouraged him to take up soccer, as his entire family is a big fan of the sport, due to their Bulgarian culture. Having European roots made soccer a large part of Slavov’s life before he even started playing. According to Slavov, the sport has always been a way for him to relate to others. “Soccer has such a great international community. Anywhere you go you can connect with people through soccer,” Slavov said.
While Slavov has played soccer recreationally since he was a toddler, he tried other sports before sticking with it. “I just kept coming back to it,” Slavov said. He has played on many local teams, such as the Youth YMCA team and North Port Fusion, and is currently playing his second season with the Venice Indians on their Varsity team, while playing Under 17 on the Venice Falcons team.
Slavov has played goalkeeper for the past three years, but it isn’t the only position he has played. Before goalie, he played striker, a position that he still fills when need be during games. “I like the pressure of [goalkeeper] because you are the only person on your team who can stop the ball with your hands,” Slavov said. “Soccer is such a fast-paced game so you always need to be at your best.”
As goalie, Slavov is an essential team member whom much of the success of the game depends upon. Teammate and captain of the Venice Falcons, tenth-grader Miles Choquette said, “[Slavov] is the second fastest person on the team and we haven’t ceded a goal in six games.”
The club team, Venice Falcons, plays from July to mid-October and then from late-February to mid-April. The high school team, Venice Indians, plays from late-October to early-February. During the season, Slavov plays three times a week and has games on the two off days. During the off-season, Slavov has two mandatory practice days but often goes an extra day to stay on his toes. During practices, the team warms up with light stretches and cardio, and then moves on to passing and pressure, shooting, and on-field communication. Finally, they end each practice with a scrimmage.
For Slavov, the most important aspect of soccer is the team bonding. “Everyone has to work together as a team, if everyone doesn’t play their best, then it won’t be a successful game. The whole team needs to mesh together too so that the team can do well. Once the team finds their rhythm then it becomes like a well-oiled machine,” Slavov said.
During games, Slavov and his teammates try to get excited to help team spirit and performance. “I am always ready for the game. If you are nervous then it is harder to play to your full ability … our captains really help our whole team get pumped and ready for the game,” Slavov said.
This year on April 14, Slavov and the Venice Falcons, won the regional championship, declaring them the best in the state. At the beginning of the season, he and his team won quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals which allowed them to move onto the state championships. At states, the competition was tough but the team made it through and won finals by 2-0. Throughout the tournament, the team scored 23 goals and were only scored on for two goals, largely thanks to their goalkeeper Slavov.
“The whole tournament was great, as a team we put a lot of effort into training and our efforts paid off. Last year we made it to regional finals and lost 1-0, but this year we came back with more intensity and a larger desire to win and made it past where we couldn’t the previous year,” Slavov said.