James Wood’s Brian Sullivan is The Winchester Star Boys’ Soccer Coach of the Year for the first time in his fifth year at the helm. Sullivan directed the Colonels to a seven-win improvement from 2018 and their first winning season since 2011.
James Wood went 3-11-3 in 2018 and finished last in the seven-team Class 4 Northwestern District with a 1-10-1 record. In 2019, the Colonels went 10-6-1 and tied for third in the district with a 6-5-1 mark. James Wood finished just one win short of tying the school record for victories in a season after being knocked out by eventual district tournament champion Kettle Run 1-0 in the first round.
Q. How did this season go based on your preseason expectations?
Sullivan: At the beginning of the season, I expected to be better than last year. We kind of got off to a little bit of a shaky start. (James Wood was 3-4 after seven games, but went 6-0-1 over its next seven games.) It was tough early on to play Sherando twice because they were the best team in the district. But I think that gave us a lot of valuable experience that we needed to get so we could figure some things out and compete in the back half of the season. During our [unbeaten streak], we were just finding ways to get goals. Everybody was contributing, and the guys were really responding to what we had worked on and talked about in the preseason. We had a tough year last year but the foundation was there.
Q. What stands out about this season?
Sullivan: I would just say I preach character all year from this team. “Buy in” would be something else. [The players] trusted our offseason plan, what it was that we needed to get better at. This was my tightest group. They all worked so well together. They’d get there early to practice to put in the work and were eager to stay after to keep improving. I preach every year that the leaving group should set higher expectations for the new group, and my seven seniors really wanted to help lay the foundation for growth and success into the future. I think we really did that this year.
Q. What was your most memorable moment?
Sullivan: I attribute a lot of our success to the work that we put in during the offseason, and the guys responding to how much I put forth for them. If there was a moment, maybe the win over Handley [2-1 on April 23] or the win over Millbrook [3-0 on April 11]. But I really look at the season as a whole [as being memorable], and just the constant improvement, and the constant leadership from a bunch of guys on the team. It was a fun group to coach all season.
Q. What was your most difficult moment?
Sullivan: The locker room after that loss to Kettle Run [in the district tournament] was tough, especially since we had a couple of opportunities in that game to tie it up or even beat them. Knowing how far they went after that, it was tough knowing we were right there. We were one win off the school record, and the guys were fighting hard to get that win No. 11. To come up a little bit short like that after the [strong] way we finished the season, going 7-1-1 into the playoffs, that stung a little bit.
Q. You bring back the area’s leader in goals [Chris Garcia with 19] and three total all-district selections. What are your expectations for next year?
Sullivan: I have high expectations. We return a good core of my starters — eight out of 11 — and obviously Chris, who was second in the district in goals. Having Chris and about 90 percent of my scoring coming back, next year, I have high hopes to compete with some of the other quality teams in our district.