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No experience necessary: Cartwright guides Bulls to region final in first year on pitch

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, July 7, 2018
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Best of Sports 2017-2018: Coach of the Year

C J Cartwright

C.J. Cartwright. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Last summer, the Bridgeport Bulls were still searching for a soccer coach.

Only a month removed from their heart-stopping loss on penalty kicks to Kilgore in the 2017 4A state final, former coach Ben Parks left for the same position at Argyle.

As football two-a-days neared, Bridgeport athletic director Shannon Wilson went to one of his assistants with an idea. Although he had never coached soccer before, Wilson wanted C.J. Cartwright to lead the Bulls on the pitch.

“It has been the biggest blessing and the most incredible thing I’ve been a part of as a coach,” Cartwright said. “Coach Wilson and I have a great relationship, and I think he saw something in me that I didn’t see.

“Believe it or not, I don’t think there were a ton of applicants for the job. I think it was strange to a lot of people. If anybody was around these kids, I think it would be even stranger. If you’re a soccer coach, this is one of the best places to be.”

Cartwright’s first order of business as coach was addressing the team’s high expectations. Bridgeport entered the season as the top ranked team in 4A after capturing a silver medal and going 20-4-5 in 2017.

The buzz around Cartwright’s squad was palpable. He knew it would be imperative to keep the team level-headed throughout the year.

“You walked through the school and you heard, ‘Are y’all going to go to state again?'” Cartwright recalled. “Right off the bat, the first thing we talked about as a group was [take] it one game at a time. The kids really bought into that. ”

The results spoke for themselves.

Bridgeport rattled off seven straight wins to start the season, recording shutouts in five of the victories.

“I really didn’t have any [doubt] that he wasn’t going to do a great job,” Wilson said. “I know how he is with kids, and he was able to adapt through the year. The whole group had a great chemistry.”

Led by a slew of seniors, including leading goal scorer Juan Amador, the Bulls went on another seven-game winning streak before stumbling against Decatur in mid-March. The Eagles upset the Bulls 2-1 at home, leaving the race for the district title wide open.

As Bridgeport entered spring break, Cartwright had a simple message for his team.

“I told them no one in the state of Texas was going to work harder than us the rest of the season,” Cartwright said.

From that point on, Cartwright put the Bulls through a gauntlet of grueling workouts. Players started with an hour of heavy weights – squats and bench press – before moving to the field.

Once there, players would warm up by running two miles. If they failed to complete the two miles in 14 minutes, Cartwright made them run wind sprints. Practice would last an hour-and-a-half to two hours, ending with a full scrimmage.

“We hit a little bit of a skid in the middle of district, and I thought we needed to take our work ethic to another level,” Cartwright said. “I think it was an eye opener for me and the kids.”

Bridgeport did not lose another game until the 4A Region I final, beating Decatur 5-1 in the regular season finale to secure its third consecutive district title.

The league championship only fueled the Bulls for their deep playoff run.

Bridgeport beat Brownwood, Clint, Stephenville and Midlothian Heritage to claim bi-district, area, regional quarterfinal and semifinal titles. Cartwright was in the middle of each postgame celebration, high-fiving and hugging as many players as he could.

“The way he connected with us and his personality [was special],” Amador said. “The team was like family. That’s how it will always be around those guys and around coach. He was kind of like our dad.”

Despite not having any experience coaching soccer, Cartwright guided the Bulls to their second straight appearance in the region final.

With a trip to the state tournament on the line, Bridgeport and San Elizario duked it out for 80 minutes as neither side was able to find a goal. Still scoreless, the two powerhouses went to overtime to decide the region title.

In the 95th minute, the Eagles scored the lone goal of the match to knock the Bulls out of the playoffs.

San Elizario went on to win the 4A championship.

“They put everything on the line and sold out on the field,” said Cartwright of his team’s effort. “They gave every ounce of effort and heart into that game.”

Looking back on the season, Cartwright concedes he never thought he would coach soccer – much less take a team to the region final.

But in his first year at the helm, Bridgeport went 21-4-1, averaged 4.2 goals per game and allowed just 0.9 goals per match. The Bulls tallied 12 clean sheets on the year and had five players selected to the District 3-4A first-team.

Amador was named 3-4A MVP, Rigoberto Alvarez was Defensive MVP, Edward Rodriguez was Newcomer of the Year and Cartwright earned Coach of the Year honors.

His guiding of the Bulls’ charge made him the Wise County Coach of the Year.

He may not have expected to coach soccer, but as far as Cartwright is concerned, he would not change a thing.

“I knew I was going to do whatever I had to do to not let those kids down,” Cartwright said. “Whatever I had to learn, however hard I had to work, I was going to give those kids everything I had. Every single one of them has changed my life, and I’ve told them that. I will never forget them.”

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C.J. Cartwright and the Bridgeport Bulls soccer team. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

WISE COUNTY COACH OF THE YEAR RECIPIENTS

2011: Rob Schmucker, Alvord
2012: Cody Vanover, Slidell
2013: Claire Gay, Decatur
2014: Brandon Hopkins, Boyd
2015: Claire Gay, Decatur
2016: Claire Gay, Decatur
2017: Dusty Crafton, Boyd
2018: C.J. Cartwright, Bridgeport

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