After a slow start this year, Westfield's boys' soccer team won the Concorde District and Northern Region championships. So Friday's deflating overtime loss to eventual champion Thomas Dale in a Virginia AAA semifinal did nothing to diminish the Bulldogs' pride in their season.
"Nobody can take anything away from this season," Westfield Coach Tom Torres said after his team's 2-1 loss at Christopher Newport University in Newport News. "We feel like we played fantastic all year long."
In Torres's first year at the helm, the Bulldogs started 1-4 as they worked out the kinks in their lineup. Once the players had became comfortable in the positions Torres assigned them, their confidence skyrocketed and the victories followed.
Westfield dropped to 2-5-1 with a loss to Langley on April 7, but the Bulldogs went undefeated over the next two months. They went 10-0-3 leading up to Friday's state semifinal -- including a seven-game winning streak -- and captured the five-year old school's first district and regional titles in boys' soccer.
"It's been overwhelming," senior captain Nick Rhodes said. "We never thought we'd make it this far at the beginning of the season. As we started . . . on that winning streak, I knew it was our year."
Torres cites hard work as the main reason for the team's turnaround.
"I'll never forget them because of how hard they worked," Torres said. "It's not like they have this great skillful game. We have a lot of talented players, but [also] a lot of heart and determination."
The early struggles brought the Bulldogs together. The way the players carried themselves on the field was evidence that they took immense pride in the teamwork that led to their late-season success.
"I love all these guys out here," junior forward Pat Barthold said. "They're my family. . . . This is probably the best soccer I've ever played besides my club and everything. I put this season above all of that."
Looking ahead to next season, Torres realizes that the Bulldogs can't afford another slow start. After this season's accomplishments, expectations will be high.
"I think that's the continued message that we'll take into the preseason next year -- we saw what it took to get there last year," Torres said. "It's going to take double that because now people are going to come after you. Now people are going to say, 'Hey, that team went to the state [semifinals]. That team was a top-four team in the state.' So we've got to make sure we come after that."
Westfield will lose eight seniors, several of whom played significant roles this season. Rhodes and Zach Fernandes were captains, and goalkeeper Chris Smith was a big reason why the Bulldogs allowed no more than one goal per game during their 13-game unbeaten streak.
Several key players should be back, however. Barthold will return as the team's most dangerous scorer, and freshman forward A.J. Sheta spurred the offense this season with his powerful leg.
"I think we'll be fine," Barthold said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see us right back here in this position. The kids who aren't seniors understand what it takes to get here now. We'll be more focused at the beginning of the season to get here and work as hard to get here."