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Chance favors the prepared mind

Cherokee coach Gallo kept his players on course for a state title in Group 4.

One of the most deceptively difficult tasks in sports is coaching a team with talent - even one that has had success.

The Cherokee boys' soccer team entered this season on the heels of a state Group 4 title in 2010, and it returned the most talented team in South Jersey.

On their way to a second consecutive title, the Chiefs took no one by surprise but, conversely, took nothing for granted.

The team grew a reputation as one of the more humble powerhouses in recent area memory. The attitude was embodied by its star player, Mike Ryan, a forward as unassuming off the field as he was commanding on it. But while the players lived that attitude, their coach, Anthony Gallo, deserves credit for harnessing it.

One of the most methodical and well-prepared coaches in the area, Anthony Gallo, The Inquirer coach of the year in South Jersey boys' soccer, is credited with fostering a culture that allowed for an undefeated, historic season.

"Day in and day out, [Gallo] was there for us," senior Cherokee keeper Barry Fitzgerald said. "From a soccer standpoint, we watched him work so hard every day.

"He has game plans, for every player, for every game. He has scouting reports. He puts in so much extra time, so much hard work, that you really couldn't ask for anything more from a coach. It's above and beyond anything that I've ever experienced."

Ryan echoed Fitzgerald, noting that one of Gallo's greatest strengths was to not allow the team to become overconfident and, above all else, to make sure the team was prepared for every game.

"He's just a great coach," said Ryan, a senior. "All four years, his hard work is really what stood out to me and to all of us. He takes the time to make us scouting reports, look up videos. He just did everything possible to help this team succeed and to make us better."

The highlights of Cherokee's season included winning a Coaches Tournament title and a second consecutive Group 4 championship, marking the first time a team has gone back-to-back in Group 4 since Shawnee accomplished the feat in 1992-93.

But for a coach, the greatest feat might be the team's undefeated record of 25-0-2, a sign that, as his players noted, they were ready to play every game.

"I really felt that I was fortunate with the seven seniors that we had this year," said Gallo, who completed his ninth year as head coach at Cherokee and 11th overall with the team. "They were all part of our success in some way last year. So I didn't have to do a lot of convincing to get them to believe we could do this again if we were all on the same page.

"They wanted to work hard. They wanted to win again. I was lucky in that I didn't have to push them in that respect.

"And it was so much fun this year, I can't say much more than that. The season just ended, and I already miss the team and miss being out there every day."