FAIRMONT — From the moment then-sophomore forward Bubby Towns cracked a golden goal that gave Fairmont Senior a 2-1 victory over Robert C. Byrd in the 2019 Class AA-A boys soccer state title game, the Polar Bears started gearing up for a potential back-to-back run in 2020.
They were flush with returning talent, had a trio of returning blue-chip stars in Towns and the Branch brothers, Isaac and Jonas, and, perhaps most vitally, had a collective vision to mount a repeat quest.
“They understood what it took to get there from last year, and there was never a doubt,” said Fairmont Senior coach Darrin Paul. “I don’t mean that to be cocky, it was just those guys had it in their minds they were going to repeat no matter what happened.”
When the Polar Bears finally did get on the field for the start of the 2020 season last fall, they made good on their mission, pulling off a 19-3 overall record and repeating as Class AA-A state champions with a 3-2 comeback victory over Charleston Catholic in the title game. The victory gave the Fairmont Senior program its third state title since 2015 and marked the first repeat Class AA-A state champion since Charleston Catholic won four straight from 2009-12.
“Honestly I think it was the drive and the leadership our players had,” Paul said. “Those three specifically in Jonas, Isaac and Bubby, they really upped their game as the season went on. They knew what they wanted to do and they weren’t going to let anybody stop them.”
Towns, Jonas Branch and Isaac Branch headlined the Polar Bears’ title pursuit all season long, and now they headline the 2020 Class AA-A boys All-State first team, as selected by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
Jonas Branch, who has been nominated for the Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year, was named the Class AA-A All-State first-team captain after tallying 30 goals and 32 assists this season from his midfield spot. Towns led the Polar Bears with 44 goals and Isaac Branch recorded 10 goals and eight assists from his center back position.
“We’ve had teams that were talented and we’ve had teams that have had individually great talent, but at all three levels — forward, midfield and defense — I felt like we had the best players at those three positions, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team that had that. Any one of those three could take over a game, and any one of those three could pick up the slack if another one wasn’t having a great game. And if all three were on, heaven help the other team.”
The All-State selections of Towns and the Branch brothers for Fairmont Senior tied the Polar Bears with Charleston Catholic for the most first-team selections, with the Class AA-A state runners-up Irish placing midfielders Wil Swan and Aidan Paul as well as goalkeeper John Patnoe on the first team.
Scott, the lone team in the Class AA-A ranks to defeat Fairmont Senior this past season, and Point Pleasant each had two players earn All-State first-team honors. The Skyhawks were represented by forward Carson Asbury (20 goals, 13 assists) and defender Evan Constant, while Point Pleasant had forward Adam Veroski (22 goals, five assists) and utility player Braxton Watkins-Lovejoy (19 goals, three assists) earn spots.
Liberty’s Hayden Dodd (23 goals, nine assists) joined Towns, Asbury and Veroski as the final first-team forward, while Wheeling Central’s Austin Nestor (24 goals, 14 assists) and Philip Barbour’s Ethan Gregory (12 goals, six assists) joined Swan and Jonas Branch to complete the group of midfielders.
Will Mercer of Herbert Hoover and Aidan Gamble of Robert C. Byrd rounded out the first-team defense alongside Constant and Isaac Branch, with Patnoe at goalkeeper.
Finally, East Fairmont senior forward Lance Cerullo (22 goals, four assists) joined Paul and Watkins-Lovejoy as first-team utility selections.
Scott midfielder Ian Gillispe was named second-team All-State captain, and he is joined in the midfield by Garret Hill of Williamstown, Caleb Hawks of Winfield, and Owen Spangler of Lewis County. The second-team forwards are Fairmont Senior’s Nate Flower, Winfield’s Braxton Vanscoy, Hoover’s Dustin Stuart and Sissonville’s Jaxson Haynes.
The second-team back line is made up of Weir’s Brenden Carpenter, St. Joseph’s Blake Spangler, Poca’s Justin Williams and Charleston Catholic’s William Ball. Notre Dame’s Wade Britton and Oak Glen’s Jacob Clark are the second-team keepers.
Weir’s Antonio Pittman and Wheeling Central’s Ryan Prager round out the All-State teams as second-team utility players.