Boys Varsity Soccer Hungry to Stake Claim

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Kunkel poised for a free kick in a game against E.C. Glass (Photo: Eric Wallace)

After winning last year’s state championship title, the WAHS boys varsity soccer team graduated 10 starters. “That team was full of seniors, so in a lot of ways we’re starting over,” said head coach Milo Oakland. “But there are a lot of returning players who are excited about the opportunity to step up and lead. Our overall success this season will be determined by our new junior and senior classes’ ability to transition from role players and followers to star players and leaders.”

Nearing the midseason point, with a record of 7-2 as of April 27—and those tough, close, away-game losses coming at the hands of Mills Godwin and veteran-stacked and undefeated Charlottesville—the team appears to be accomplishing just that. “We don’t get to play teams that good that often, in fact they may be the best [two] teams we’ll play,” said Oakland. “Albemarle is great, Mills Godwin is great, so we feel good about how we played and the fact we were in it until the end.” 

Considering the boys’ resolve, for those in the know the success isn’t coming as a surprise. “Our preseason got started just after winter break and the dedication and work ethic of these young players were just immediately apparent,” said Oakland. Hoping to deepen ties between younger and older players, and thereby hasten the rebuilding process, Oakland emphasized having the JV and varsity groups take time to train together. “It was great to watch the older guys meshing with the younger players during fitness and pickup games, and I think it bodes well for the program to see that type of community between the two teams,” he said. “They often feel like separate programs and the preseason offers the perfect opportunity to bridge the gap and make everyone feel like they’re a part of the same thing.”

Also softening the loss of so many seniors was the fact that, with its feeder programs, the WAHS talent pool is notoriously deep. “While we are a young team, I count myself lucky in that I benefit from a very strong soccer community,” Oakland said with a laugh. “I hope I never catch myself complaining about depth!”

However, that youthfulness means less experience which, in turn, means Oakland has had to adapt alternative strategies. “We’re a smaller team than we were last year and while we’re strong defensively, we have to learn to move the ball more quickly and develop more creativity on the offensive side of things,” he said. “But those things take time and that’s where the development comes in.” Meanwhile, with what he described as his players’ soccer IQ being so high, Oakland was quick to say that, in terms of potential, the sky is the limit. “The more time we spend together and the more games we get under our belt, the more our team chemistry continues to improve, both on and off the field,” he said.

In terms of leadership, the team is relying on junior captains Wilson Brown, a center midfielder, and Jed Strickland, who plays center back. “Wilson is a very strong player whom we hope will end up playing Division I soccer,” said Oakland. “His specialty is how well-rounded he is—there is no weakness in his game both offensively and defensively… The guys definitely look up to him, and his sharp sense of humor sets the tone for the team during water breaks and bus rides.” Meanwhile, Strickland, a first team All-State standout last year, was described as the ideal teammate and player. “He’s hard-working, athletic, intelligent, talented and tall. He may be a little quieter than Wilson, but he lets his play do the talking.”   

Overall, regardless of wins, losses and playoff berths, Oakland said the team is abiding by the expectation they maintain each year: to get better.

We have untapped potential that will take time to discover but, with patience, I have no doubt that we can end up right where we want to be,” he said. “My goal for this team is to put in the effort to improve each practice and game. If we do that then, at best, we end the season having attained our goals. At worst, we finish with no regrets.

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