By Kevin O’Rourke
Although both teams struggled early in the season, the Northwest boys and girls soccer teams finished strong with earned both earned Division 4A West titles and are strong contenders going into the post-season.
After dropping their first three games this season, the Jags boys soccer team did not lose another game and ended the regular season with a record of 6-3-3, giving up just six goals in the last 10 games. While the Northwest girls team ended the season with a record of 7-5-1, allowing just five goals in the last nine games. Both teams went unbeaten in the 4A West Division, the boys team ended 3-0-2, while the girls notched a 4-0-1 division record.
“Playing in one’s division is about pride,” said girls Head Coach Josh Kinnetz on the division title, “but it is also an opportunity to compete for a title before going into the post season. Anytime you can put more meaning into a competition, it usually makes for a more intense and quality game.”
Boys Head Coach Kert Mease thinks the divisional games allowed the boys to gel and get better as a team. “Playing divisional games are like having a season within a season and winning the division was certainly a goal of ours.”
“The goalkeeping and back line have been critical to our defensive success,” said Kert Mease. “Our keepers are the two best in the county. They are certainly the best tandem.” Mease also credits the Jaguars back line of seniors Christian Nlend, Kristian Loch, junior Josh Hartman, and sophomore Jorge Tello as being a huge factor in the team’s success. “Christian Loch has been very important to our defensive success as a center back,” said Mease.
“That group has played almost every minute as a defensive unit. They have developed a real cohesiveness. And our goalkeepers Matthew Mighty and Petur Bogan have been great in goal for us.” Mighty and Bogan have posted four clean sheets and have not allowed multiple goals against since game two on Sept. 10.
On the girls’ side, Kinnetz credits junior Hannah Crook with improving her defensive play to allow the team to improve defensively. “Hannah Crook has really solidified our defense and has enabled us to execute our offensive pattern of play. There was no surprise in the sense that I already knew she was a quality player, but when I played her in a new defensive midfield role she became a key player in both our offense and defense. She deserves a lot of credit for making our system of play work.”
Kinnetz is quick to point out that good defense is team effort, but he too credits the play of his keeper. “It’s a complete team defensive effort in denying goals but it’s important to note the role of senior goalie Laura Eckart. She makes all the routine saves and comes up big when she needs to. Laura gives us a chance to win by keeping the ball out of the goal. She’s not afraid to come off her line which allows our backline the freedom to push forward and apply more pressure.”
Offensively, Kinnetz says the girls’ captains and a sophomore have combined to create an attack that allows the lady Jags to compete at a high level. “Sophomore Samantha Sekscienski has been very versatile in our offensive side of play. Her calmness and technique on the ball has benefited us both as a forward and midfielder.”
According to Kinnetz, senior captains Dana Eckerstrom and Kat Lake have also had a profound impact not just in their quality of play but the way they are leading this team by example. “They have set the tone for the team through their fiercely competitive demeanor which allows us to match up against anyone,” he said.
For the boys’ team Mease says that a midseason call up from the junior varsity squad has had a real benefit. “Sophomore Frankie Viera has really responded since being called up. He has scored four goals for us since being called up from JV in time for divisional play,” said Mease. He was quick to point out the contribution of senior Christian Nlend. “Christian has been fantastic as a center back for us. He also has three goals.” Mease added that junior forward Henry Gomez has really settled in as a target player and now has five goals and has set up numerous others.
The girls’ team will open their playoffs Friday night Oct. 24 at 6:00 pm with a home against Wootton, who is 4-7-1 on the season. If they win, the Northwest girls will to travel to Quince Orchard on Tuesday, Oct. 28.
“Our motto this season has been to take it one game at a time with our sights now set on playing Wootton,” said Kinnetz. “The quality of play between our two teams has been good in the recent meetings and we expect the same going into this game and will plan accordingly. I expect with this being a playoff game there will be a bit more of an edge in practice because there is no guaranteed tomorrow.”
“At this point we have done all the hard work,” said Kinnetz. “It is now about staying true to the things that have gotten us here and then doing the little adjustments.”
Winning the 4A West title earned the boys a bye in the first round of the playoffs. They will begin their playoff run at home on Tuesday Oct. 28 with an opening round game facing either Gaithersburg (8-5-1) or Clarksburg (1-11-2), who play each other Thursday, Oct. 23.
Coach Mease doesn’t expect much change in the team now that the playoffs are here. “Can't say there is a real preference as to who we play, but we are happy that it is at home. The expectation is we come ready to work each practice session.” Mease expects to work on penalty kicks a bit more, but other than that he doesn’t intend make many changes. “I would think we would practice some PK's, especially seeing as though we played six overtime games this season.”
Top: Northwest junior Henry Gomez.
Next: Northwest senior Ashley Kim.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.