Sean Verfurth has experienced the full transformation of the Notre Dame Academy boys' soccer program. The senior defender began his high school career on a losing team. He will complete it as a champion.
On Monday, two years after Coach Bill Moravek arrived, Verfurth and his teammates won the Cavalier Athletic Conference title with a 2-1 win over Blue Ridge. The Dragons improved to 15-2 entering Friday's game against Fredericksburg Christian, a game that ended too late for this edition.
"In my senior year, to come out with a championship trophy feels great, especially knowing where we were at the beginning," Verfurth said.
Moravek changed the Dragons' style of play this season. The team in past years took a more direct, kick-and-run approach, but it focuses now on possessing the ball and making good passes. That strategy helped Notre Dame achieve an undefeated conference record.
"We string a lot of passes together compared to last year's style," sophomore midfielder Rusty Montgomery said. "This year we pass the ball around a lot more and control the tempo."
Moravek deemed the change necessary for his diminutive lineup. The Dragons don't have big and powerful players, so a finesse game better suits them.
"I think that's why they've done as well as they have -- they've surprised a couple of teams," Moravek said. "Especially when you come out on the field and see these guys; they're small guys. By the looks of it, they're not going to put fear in you. They can play some ball, though."
The players partly credit Moravek with the team's emergence. He came to Notre Dame with an impressive coaching resume that included stints with the Jamaican national team and Southampton FC of the English Premier League. As a player, he was a member of Clemson University's national championship team in 1987.
"He really knows what he's doing," sophomore Joe Peluso said. "He sets up certain things to help us understand what he wants, like certain drills."
Moravek met current Notre Dame athletic director Mike Lockart while the two were attending Clemson. When the opportunity came for Moravek and his family to settle down and leave behind the rigors of high-level coaching, he chose Notre Dame.
"You don't have to worry about getting sacked every week," Moravek joked.
The Dragons made their first appearance in the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association tournament the year prior to Moravek's arrival. Last season the Dragons went 11-6-1 and earned a second state tournament berth. Notre Dame is assured a berth in this year's tournament, in part, because of Montgomery.
"He's improved tremendously since last year," Moravek said. "He's unbelievable. He's athletic, but he doesn't have blazing speed. It's more of his technical ability and understanding of his function on the field."
While Montgomery and Peluso provide the offensive spark, Verfurth and junior Ian Snow help shore up the back. Verfurth and Snow are among only four upperclassmen on the team.
With the right players and an effective style in place, Montgomery likes the Dragons' chances in the upcoming state tournament.
"If we just keep working together, we should be fine," he said. "I have a feeling we'll do pretty well."