Last spring, Woodbridge High School's soccer team lost its first two games. The Vikings went on to win the Virginia AAA state title and finished 17-3.
With any luck, they'll start out slowly this season.
"Our teams have a history of that," Coach Angelo Hilios said. "It takes some time to mesh the players."
In the past, Hilios has been successful in getting the most from his players. But this year will be a difficult test: Woodbridge graduated seven starters, including forward Grant Shiffert, its leading scorer and an all-Northern Virginia selection.
Still, the Vikings should dominate the Commonwealth District. They will be strong on defense, led by all-District selection Chris Hiett and goalkeeper John O'Brien, who alternated last year for a team that yielded nine goals all season.
On offense, Hilios is hoping junior Greg Williams can pick up the scoring responsibility. "He has the capability to put the ball in the net," Hilios said. "If the offense finds its way, we could have a good year."
If the offense doesn't develop, Woodbridge could feel pressure from Stonewall Jackson, Gar-Field and North Stafford.
Jackson, under first-year Coach Marty Block, has an "aggressive" team that will "cover the field well." Leading the offense will be forwards Tony Summers and Robert Lane, and stopper Mark Dollin. Gar-Field could improve vastly with five experienced seniors and junior Mike Dittmer, a nine-goal scorer.
Although Woodbridge won the state title, the Northern District is considered perhaps the most competitive of the leagues. There, Robinson, W.T. Woodson and Lake Braddock return strong teams, and Oakton could surprise.
Woodson, 14-5 last season and a 2-1 overtime loser to Woodbridge in the state semifinals, has what Coach Greg Benson calls "one of the top goalkeepers" in the area in Richie Spencer. Supporting Spencer on defense will be stopper Eric Jones, left back Pete Rabinowitch and right back Mike Pilly.
Senior Hal Zabrowski (11 goals, nine assists) will attend Clemson, the national collegiate champion, in the fall. But first, Zabrowski, joined at midfield by three-year starter Jim Bartelloni, will attempt to take the Cavaliers back to the playoffs.
Robinson had a superb season last year with two losses, both coming in the playoffs. The Rams will be a young team this year with several players graduated. However, despite six sophomores, the Rams do have experience in sweeper Billy McMullen, midfielder Jeff Schulstad, goalkeeper Greg Wells and forward Jon Tuttle. Tuttle is the most proficient, a nine-goal scorer who was named to the Parade all-America squad.
Oakton, with six returning starters, likely will improve on a 4-8 record, behind the leadership of all-Northern Virginia midfielder Chris Pfau. Most of the scoring is left to to forward Scott Prendergast, who had seven goals last year although injured for part of the season.
In the Great Falls District, South Lakes, Herndon, Langley and McLean should be in contention.
South Lakes Coach Jim Isaacs says his team is strong defensively but lacks depth on the front line, which might prompt a move of Parade all-America Jay Lodge up from his stopper position.
Leading the defense is junior goalkeeper Jay Fox, whom Issacs calls a "big, strong kid." Sophomore forward Rick Englefried, who is 6 feet 1 and 175 pounds, has good speed and a hard shot. He could provide the scoring the Seahawks need.
"We're not getting the players we usually get," laments McLean Coach Ted Pease, whose team tied for the district title with Herndon last year but lost to Robinson in the regionals.
The Highlanders' only returning starter is all-district Robert Ahearne at midfield.
Herndon returns their front line, including Barry Johnson, an all-Northern Region pick last year as a sophomore. Team captain Tony Hudgins leads the defense at fullback.
For Stuart, which tied for first in the Potomac District last year but lost in the initial round of the playoffs, motivation might carry it further this season. The Raiders are adept up the middle with backs Ramon Esteban and Robert Scheller, midfielders Steve Hughes and Andrew Cress, sweeper Robert Scheller and striker Ken Jenkins.
Stuart's chief competitors will be Jefferson, Annandale and Chantilly. Jefferson, which made the regional quarterfinals last year, graduated three all-district performers but return leading scorer David Robinson at forward. Also, senior Andy Lynch, who played behind all-Northern Virginia Mike Ulses last year, could continue the tradition at goalkeeper.
Annandale's "experience across the board" includes three-year starter Andy Groome at the sweeper position and midfielder Cas Shiver, both of whom will play in the fall for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
In the Gunston District, Lee has never had a losing season, and this one should be no exception. The Lancers, who allowed the fewest goals in the district last year, are led by fullback Rob Hudgins and three-year starter John Kenney. Junior Jeff Ridderhoff, only the second player at Lee to start as a freshman, will team with transfer Keith McIlvoy at midfield.
At Fort Hunt, first-year coach Roger Creed has inherited a team with an agressive offense and depth on defense. Junior David Kelly should produce most of the goals and senior sweeper Peter Sparks is the mainstay on defense.
Groveton, 8-7 last year, is led by junior forward Sergio Alvarez, an all-district pick.