A lot can change when a team hasn’t played a regular-season game in two years due to a global pandemic.
Fortunately for area soccer players, they’ve had their club teams to keep them busy once COVID-19 restrictions began to loosen up last summer.
As the coach of Blue Ridge United’s Under-17 and Under-16 teams, James Wood boys’ soccer coach Brian Sullivan got to coach and see a lot of local high school players in the fall.
He thinks area high schools will have plenty to look forward to this spring.
“Sherando’s going to be stout defensively, and with 13 seniors, they’ve got a lot of senior leadership,” Sullivan said. “I look for them to be a quality team. I coached a bunch of Millbrook guys [with United], and there’s a bunch of hard-working juniors on that team that are getting better every single day. We didn’t lose a game in club [Under-17, 14-0-2] this year with a lot of those Millbrook juniors. I know Handley has some younger guys on the team, and so they’re building, but a lot of those guys are skilled and can play. I think it will be a competitive season.”
Sullivan didn’t mention his team, but they’ll be generating plenty of chatter from coaches and players this spring.
The opening week of the season showed things should be interesting in the Class 4 Northwestern District, where the two teams that make the district tournament final will advance to the Region 4C semifinals. All eight teams will compete in the district tournament, with teams seeded by winning percentage in case some teams don’t get to play a full 10-game season.
Millbrook is off to a 2-0 start following a 3-2 overtime win over Sherando and a 2-0 win over Fauquier. James Wood is 1-0 after a 1-0 win over Handley (0-2). The Warriors are 0-2 after a 3-2 overtime loss to Liberty on Thursday. Heading into Friday, Fauquier was 1-1, Liberty was 1-1 and Kettle Run was 1-0. Culpeper County played its first game Friday.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented James Wood from trotting out NCAA Division I players on defense last year in goalkeeper Ethan Russell (Mount St. Mary’s) and center back James Cornwell (George Mason).
But the Colonels have the most proven offensive firepower among the local schools. Senior forward Chris Garcia (headed to Division II California University of Pennsylvania) was a Region 4C second team selection in 2019 who led the area in scoring with 19 goals and had 11 assists. Senior midfielder Erick Nolasco (three goals, six assists) and senior forward Connor Ballentine (five goals) are also back. And James Wood added forward Seth Hammond, who is headed to NCAA Division I Elon.
Sullivan also has a lot of faith in a defense that will be anchored by juniors Ryan King, the younger brother of 2019 All-Region second team selection Jamie King, and Micah Frigaard, the younger brother of James Wood volleyball star Grace Frigaard. Senior Brandon Dunn will take over in goal.
Both Millbrook and Handley will look a lot different from last year.
The Pioneers lost nine seniors from last year’s team, many of whom were expected to make a big impact, as well as senior goalkeeper Nathan Hershberger, who decided not to play this year.
Pioneers coach Keith Kilmer isn’t complaining though, because he feels he has one of the most cohesive teams he’s had in his 11 years as head coach.
Offensively, Kilmer says Millbrook has several players who are capable of finishing. Millbrook has had four different people score its five goals, with Tyler McGuire scoring twice. Kilmer thinks the midfield might be the strongest part of the team due to its depth and versatility.
Senior Sam Bryant and junior Patrick Sigler will be the key figures for the Pioneers defense, with Bryant likely sweeping. Junior Nick Catlett earned the shutout in goal against Liberty.
Handley lost its opener 3-0 to Kettle Run. With senior goalkeeper Adam Pollak (four shutouts, 4.6 saves per game in 2019) and senior defender Logan Coffelt returning, the Judges have strong experience on their defense.
Though Sherando hasn’t had an ideal start, the Warriors boast plenty of talent. Senior defender Ethan Laing, who will play for NCAA Division I Longwood next year, had eight goals and three assists as a Region 4C first team selection as a sophomore. The Warriors also feature 2019 second team district forward Wade Butler (eight goals), a senior, and Region 4C second team selection and senior midfielder Jack Hendren.
Clarke County coach Patrick Casey had hopes of challenging for the Bull Run District title prior to last year’s canceled season, and that goal hasn’t changed. Senior Justin Toone — who scored 10 goals and was a second team All-Region 2B selection as a sophomore — opened the season with a hat trick in a 9-1 win against Madison County.
The Eagles are starting the season with just 16 players on varsity after seeing a 25 percent reduction in the number of players who typically try out. The Eagles will look to sophomores Leo Morris and Chris LeBlanc and freshman Charlie Frame to lead the midfield. Juniors Jesus Ramirez and Caleb Neiman are moving back from the midfield to be central defenders. Wynn Morris is starting the year in goal, with T.J. Lowery playing a bigger role in goal once he gets more experience.
The following is a glance at each area team:
Coach: Brian Sullivan, sixth season.
2019 performance: 10-6-1 (6-5-1 Class 4 Northwestern District); lost to Kettle Run in district first round.
Key losses: James Cornwell, Ethan Russell, Jamie King, Jon Davet.
Key returnees: Chris Garcia, Sr., F; Erick Nolasco, Sr., M; Ryan King, Jr., D; Micah Frigaard, Jr., D; Jonathan Resendiz, Jr., M; Connor Ballentine, Sr., F; Aidan Barton, Sr. D; Efrain Cruz, Sr., F; Hayden Armstrong, Sr, F; Deshawn Paige, Jr., M.
Key newcomers: Tristan Obert, Fr., F; Seth Hammond, Sr., F; Brandon Dunn, Sr., GK; Edgar Del Moral, Jr., M; Ethan Bowman, So., D.
Sullivan’s outlook: ”We’ve got some clear-cut goal scorers up high. Seth isn’t overly big (Sullivan believes he’s roughly 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds), but his speed, his quickness, his volleying ability ... he has some unbelievable finishes in practice. Just the stuff that he tries in really, really tight spaces with his skill and his touch, it’s just really unbelievable. His finishing ability around the net is really going to be key for us this year. Micah Frigaard has worked real hard to get a lot better. He and Ryan King are really, really, solid in the back. I look for them to communicate well with some of our younger outside backs and really teach them how to play the game. I was lucky to coach them in club this year.”
Next game: Tuesday vs. Millbrook
Coach: Keith Kilmer, 11th season.
2019 performance: 11-7-1 (6-5-1 Class 4 Northwestern District); lost to Kettle Run in district championship game.
Key losses: Nathan Hershberger, Juan Tovar, Ethan Perloff, Ronald Velasquez, Ricardo Palma, Jack Science, Ayrton Justice, Kruz Moran, Andrew Jeffries, Irvin Lemus.
Key returnees: Tanner Coffman, Sr., GK; Nick Catlett, Jr., GK; Sunny Singh, Sr., D; Sam Bryant, Sr., D; Tyler McGuire, Sr., M/F; Raphael Espinoza, Jr., M; Aaron Shipp, Jr., M; Sean Mennard, Sr., F; Brandon Riley, Jr., F; Drew McRae, Jr., D; Patrick Sigler, Jr., D; Daniel Humphries, Sr., M; Joe Rangel, Sr., D.
Key newcomers: Hamilton Lopez, Fr., M; Eric Price, Jr., M; Tyler Mallen, So., D; Mauricio Flores, Sr., F; Garrett Johnson, Fr., M/F; Oscar Megia Argueta, Sr., F; Amiel Bravo, Sr., F.
Kilmer’s outlook: ”It’s a pretty skilled and pretty creative team, overall. And chemistry-wise, the only team that might have had the same chemistry, or right at the same, would have been my 2014 team [which won the Northwestern District title and won 14 games]. Chemistry’s huge. If they want to play for each other and with each other, then I think that carries a lot. I wasn’t sure exactly what we were going to look like after losing all the talent we would have had last year. It’s definitely, collectively, one of the fastest teams I’ve ever had here.”
Next game: Tuesday at James Wood
Coach: Scott Bucey, fourth season.
2019 performance: 11-6-1 (8-3-1 Class 4 Northwestern District); lost to Millbrook in district semifinals.
Key losses: Tucker Heglas; Michael Barham; Cris Trejo; John Skyles; Albino Trinidad.
Key returnees: Adam Pollak, Sr., GK; Cam Gordon, Jr., M; Robert Avant, Jr., D; Andrew Lill, Sr., D; Brian Gonzalez, Sr., D; Sam Cornette, Jr., M; Nicholas Herrington, Jr., M; Leo Howerdd, Sr., M; Ruben Augustin, Jr., M; Sergio Santos, Sr., F; Logan Coffelt, Sr., D.
Key newcomers: Owen Turnbull, Fr., GK; James Fowler, Fr., D; Jag Fitzsimmons, Fr., D; Dash Fitzsimmons, Fr., D; Ramon Diax, Fr., F; Anderson Artega, So., F; Jonathan Romero, So., F; Sebastian Moore, Fr., M.
Bucey’s outlook: ”We’re definitely young. We don’t have a whole lot of players who have stepped on a varsity field before. But it’s exciting to see some youth coming through. A lot of the guys have played with each other in club, and we just have real good energy so far. Our midfield and our forward positions are spots where we haven’t had anyone play a whole lot of varsity before. Nicholas Herrington, Sam Cornette and Cam Gordon have played for us a little bit in the past in the midfield. But they were young, so I’m looking forward to seeing them and to seeing how much they’ve grown in the past couple of years.”
Next game: Tuesday at Fauquier
Coach: Pat Anderson, 27th season.
2019 performance: 11-4-3 (8-2-2 Class 4 Northwestern District); district regular-season champions; lost to Park View in Region 4C semifinals.
Key losses: Joe Wagner, David Berry, Connor Lothrop, Chris Naylor, Freddy Rowe, Brayden Wilkins.
Key returnees: Cody Crittenden, Jr. D; Cooper Freer, Jr., M/F; Kevin Aragon, Sr., D; Wade Butler, Sr., F; Will Freilich, Sr., D; Samuel Melendez, Sr., D; Caleb Henderson, Sr., M; Jack Hendren, Sr., M; Jacob Hill, Sr., M; Shamus Kerr, Sr. M/F; Dai Laduca, Sr., M/F; Ethan Laing, Sr., D; Micha Petty, Sr., F; Ben Rodriguez, Sr., M; Landon Rohani, Sr., D.
Key newcomers: Connor Sanders, Fr., GK; Noah Benavides, Jr., M; Joshua Call, Jr., M/D; James Deck, Jr., D; Brandon Fedez-Quz, Jr., M/D; Trevor Gates, Jr., D; Gilberto Hernandez, Jr., F. Jacon Iddings, Jr., M/F; Jacob Steele, Jr., GK;
Anderson’s outlook: “Our main focus at this point is learning to play together as a team and focusing on the little things that it takes to be a successful team. Missing last season due to COVID put us along with every other team behind the learning curve.”
Next game: Tuesday at Culpeper County
Coach: Patrick Casey, fourth season.
2019 performance: 9-10-2 (6-3-1 Bull Run District); lost to Staunton in Region 2B semifinals.
Key losses: Brandon Mayo, Cody Sowers, Joseph Gay, Tyler Reid, Kellan Dalton.
Key returnees: Justin Toone, Sr., F; Brendan Haun, Sr., F; Wynn Morris, Sr., GK/D.
Key newcomers: Oakley Staples, So., M; Chris LeBlanc, So., M; Leo Morris, So., M; Charlie Frame, Fr., M.
Casey’s outlook: ”The selection group from tryouts is smaller, but we still feel like we have a really good core group of kids. We’ve got three seniors who are all going to be really important for us, but we’ve also got some sophomores and juniors that we’re expecting to contribute, and we’ve got some freshmen who have come in that we’re excited about. This young group of kids that’s coming through now, they’ve got a lot more experience at a higher level than what we’ve had in the past. They’re fit and skilled young players, and we’re excited to see where they can take us in the future.”
Next game: Friday vs. Stonewall Jackson