The top-ranked DeMatha boys' soccer team was deadlocked with Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rival Gonzaga at halftime Sept. 14 in one of the Stags' biggest games of the season. DeMatha had several scoring chances in the first half but converted only one, which allowed the sixth-ranked Eagles to stay in the game.
Then, in the second half, the offensive onslaught suddenly began.
DeMatha scored three times in 10 minutes, blowing the game open and leaving the shell-shocked Eagles wondering how things so quickly got out of hand. That sequence typifies this year's DeMatha team -- it is skilled enough to turn any game into a rout on a moment's notice.
"Whenever we pick up the tempo and we play how we can play -- like we did against Curley [a Baltimore school] when we scored three goals in 15 minutes -- we can do that to any team in the country," senior midfielder Drew Yates said.
The Stags, who took a 6-0 record into Tuesday's game against O'Connell, have plenty of weapons, and Yates stands out as one of the team's best players. He has participated in the U.S. Soccer under-17 residency program in Florida and will play for the University of Maryland next year. Yates's ball-control skills are refined, and he is a superb passer in the midfield -- he set himself up for the go-ahead goal against Gonzaga with a give-and-go pass.
"It's easy when you have great teammates that can do something with the ball when you get it to them," Yates said.
Others have taken notice. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, the national measuring gauge for high school soccer programs, had DeMatha ranked third nationally in its first release last week. Since the beginning of the season, DeMatha Coach Dafydd Evans has asked Yates to be more direct in his play. Because Yates has the speed and skill to move the ball forward quickly and effectively, Evans believes Yates's teammates will get more scoring chances if Yates attacks aggressively.
"That's something we're adding to his game that will make him even better at Maryland," Evans said.
Besides Yates, the list of impact players is long. Senior midfielder Kyle Albrecht is a returning honorable mention All-Met selection. He scored three goals and had two assists in DeMatha's first three games. Sophomore Darnell Edwards has participated in the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program. Senior midfielder Kevin Noble and senior defender Mike Cacace are also among the group of 12 players who returned from last year's team.
Junior midfielder Joni Werth demonstrated his power against Gonzaga when he scored on a shot from more than 30 yards out. "The kid is capable of that from anywhere within 40 yards," Evans said.
Senior goalkeeper William Sarvinas has received a bulk of the playing time, while Evans also has confidence in sophomore keeper Bill Hamid. Sarvinas made a difficult save on a penalty kick against Gonzaga.
As much as the Stags are concerned with their opponents on the field, both Evans and Yates agreed that they may be their own worst enemies. Evans hopes that the team's past success doesn't breed overconfidence. The Stags entered Tuesday's game with a 30-match unbeaten streak dating to 2003. They went 14-0-4 last season and repeated their WCAC championship.
"We just need to bring that same energy that we brought in the second half [against Gonzaga] to every game, even if it's against one of the lesser teams in our league," Yates said. "Against Gonzaga, it's always going to be there. It's one of the biggest rivalries in the country. But the hard part is bringing it against teams that aren't that good."