BRADENTON -- Marc Jones had to be honest.
So honest that he even used the dreaded "r" word.
"You could say this year was a bit of a rebuilding phase," said Jones, Saint Stephen's boys soccer coach. "We lost a lot of quality seniors from last year."
"This group ... has just been phenomenal right from the get-go. They've just been getting better and better as the season's gone on."
The proof was right there in Jones' arms: The Class 1A-Region 2 championship trophy, which his Falcons won in double overtime during a wet and wild game against Tampa Carollwood Day last Friday.
Few programs take hardware away from a rebuilding season. But these Falcons have, and they'll be looking for a little more Wednesday when they head to Melbourne's Eastern Florida State College to meet Lake Worth Trinity Christian in a Class 1A state semifinal at 12:30 p.m.
The winner advances to Thursday's 3 p.m. championship match against either North Beach Miami Scheck Hillel Community or Orlando First Academy.
The final four isn't rarefied air for the Falcons (14-1-1), who won five regional titles -- and a state championship in 2001 -- while competing in the defunct fall soccer season and have made the win
ter season's state semifinals three times since 2009.
Yet this was a season few saw coming. Saint Stephen's reached the regional semifinal last year in Class 2A, losing to eventual state champion Tampa Prep by a goal, and graduated a senior class that included All-Area picks Connor McCullen and Tim Nutter.
Consequently, this one is special.
"To be honest, our goal was district finals and hopefully win that," said senior Matthew Jones, Marc's son who has a team-best 28 goals. "But the team did really well. I'm really proud of them and couldn't ask for anything more."
Marc Jones is quick to credit the success to Matthew Jones, Jeremy Jackman (tops on the team with 36 assists), Jorge Zavala (19 goals, 15 assists) and goalie J.J. Byrnes (70 saves), anchors of this year's senior class.
But the underclassmen have played well, too. Freshman Jonathan Boyd netted the game-winner Friday off an assist from classmate Alex Virgilio. Virgilio, whose father, Guy, coached Lakewood Ranch's girls team into this year's Class 4A state semifinals, has 16 goals and 14 assists, while Boyd has scored 12 and assisted on 13.
"Last year, we made it to the regional semis and got knocked out," said Boyd, who made last year's varsity squad as an eighth-grader. "I know what it's like to get knocked out of the regional tournament, and you never want to see your seniors go. So we've just been playing our hardest to keep trying to go all the way."
For guys such as Jackman, Zavala and Matthew Jones, this year's run provides a sweet bookend to their high school careers: They were freshmen during the Falcons' last final four in the 2010-11 season. As a Class 2A team that year, Saint Stephen's lost 2-0 to Providence Jacksonville in the semifinals.
"Now, the goal is to win it, send the senior class of 2014 out with a bang and represent the school as best as we can," Matthew Jones said. "It was a great experience. ... It was a lot of pressure, but I think we handled it well the first time. Unlucky with the result last time, but I think we're definitely going to come through and get the win this time."
Not bad for a little rebuilding year.
"With the seniors we lost year, it was a great class," Jackman said. "Nobody expected us to make it this far. A lot thought we could contend for a district title, but not get far in regionals at all. But we showed them that we could do it."
IF YOU GO ...
What: Saint Stephen's vs. Lake Worth Trinity Christian in Class 1A boys state soccer semifinal
When: 12:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Eastern State Florida College, Melbourne
Up next: The winner meets either Orlando First Academy or North Miami Beach Scheck Hillel Community at 3 p.m. Thursday in the state final.
Scouting Saint Stephen's: The Falcons are 14-1-1 and are making their third final four appearance since 2009. ... Senior Matthew Jones leads the team in goals (28) and classmate Jeremy Jackman tops them in assists (36). Jackman has also scored 23 goals. ... Goalie J.J. Byrnes has 70 saves in 16 games and a 1.4 goals against average. ... Freshman Jonathan Boyd scored the game-winner in double overtime during the Region 2 final against Tampa Carrollwood Day. He has 12 goals and 13 assists. ... Freshman Alex Virgilio has 14 goals and 16 assists. His father, Guy, led Lakewood Ranch's girls team into the state final four in Class 4A this year. ... Coach Marc Jones won his 300th game this year and piloted the Falcons to the fall state title in 2001.
Scouting Lake Worth Trinity Christian: The Warriors (18-5-1) clinched their first winter final four appearance by erasing a two-goal deficit against Hobe Sound Pine School to win the Region 3 title. ... Trinity Christian won a 2006 state fall soccer title and a runner-up in '05. ... Jowenrick Daantji has 23 goals and Giuseppe Best has dished out a team-best 27 assists. ... Rahsid Gerard has 22 goals to go with 22 assists, and goalie Nick Nedd has 70 saves, including a season-high 18 in a game earlier this season.