At the start of the 2021 season, the Byron boys soccer team didn’t have the look of a section champion. Far from it.

Despite having a veteran squad, the Bears started the season 0-3-1.

“Things were just not going our way,” Byron coach Dave Bahr said. “We either had to pull together or cash it in.”

RELATED: Byron boys win section title in shootout thriller

The Bears were not meshing at all, and were frustrated. But Bahr credits the team captains for turning the season around. Since the rough start, Byron is 12-3, and the last of those victories was a thrilling shootout win over Austin in the Section 1AA title game to give the Bears their first ever state berth in boys soccer.

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Garett Johnson
Garett Johnson

“We started off not as great as we’d have liked to, but we definitely pulled it together,” Byron senior Garett Johnson said. “It’s a family thing. We’ve just grown together and just worked hard throughout the season and that’s how big games get won.”

“I think guys just started to settle into their roles,” Bahr said. “For some, it wasn’t what they expected, but eventually it gained acceptance and they started to work much better than the way we started.”

Bahr said that early on there was a lot of miscommunication between players on the field. Part of that had to do with playing different styles in summer soccer. But once the veteran team, which features 12 seniors, got on the same page, it really started to click.

“They had a different way of playing and it just took a couple of weeks to get there,” Bahr said.

“The senior captains have been really phenomenal in getting the team in the right direction,” Bahr added.

That group includes Ethan Klein, Zachary Ellavsky and Wesley Felten, along with junior assistant captain Ryan Boyken.

The Bears will have a tough draw at state. Byron (12-5-1) enters the state tournament unseeded and faces No. 1 seed Orono in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

“We really need to stay focused and not let this distract us,” Bears senior goalie Ryan Anderson said. “Just go in strong and prepare for whatever teams that we’ll face.”

Byron does enter state play on an eight-game winning streak.

“Whatever the odds, this family is just going to keep pushing and keep running,” Johnson said. “Just work hard, that’s all you can do.”

Senior Bradley Pavon leads Byron with 10 goals and six assists, while sophomore Liam Schick has seven goals and Johnson has six. But the Bears do not rely on one or two big-time scorers . Of the team’s 20 field players, 16 have scored a goal this season.

“There’s a lot of guys who have a few goals,” Bahr said. “No one really dominates. It’s good to see.”

Bahr expects the Bears to have some jitters at state. But the players got to let loose after winning the section title.

Bahr gave the players a day off and most proceeded to go out and get their hair dyed blond and other assorted colors.

“There's a lot of craziness going on,” Bahr said with a chuckle. But the coach expects the players to be focused once state play begins.

“I think we just need to go in with an open mind and play as hard as we can and hope for the best outcome,” Bahr said.