What upset Mark Wysocki the most about the way the season ended for Westlake's boys' soccer team was not that it was punctuated with a loss. No, the Wolverines' junior midfielder was unable to reconcile how he and his teammates could struggle with the most critical part of their game plan in the most important game of the season -- a 3-0 loss to Towson in the Maryland 3A semifinals.
With 17 seniors and juniors, Westlake was as cohesive as a high school team could be. The Wolverines knew one another well enough that communicating on the field became second nature.
Naturally, then, it surprised everyone Saturday at Tuscarora that the Wolverines (11-6-1) struggled to connect on passes. It only made it more conspicuous when Towson's passes seemed to have homing devices guiding them between the Generals' feet.
"We'd get a few good passes, and they'd knock it away," Wysocki said. "But when they got it out, they were just so quick. Their forwards were really good."
Senior forward Konrad Hutt waited in vain several times for passes to reach his feet.
"We wanted to rely on our passing," he said, "and it just wasn't there."
And that proved to be Westlake's downfall in its second trip in three years to the state tournament. It was bad enough for Westlake that Towson scored twice in the first 16 minutes, but when the Wolverines realized their passes were off the mark, they resorted to more one-on-one play and tried to outmuscle the smaller Generals. Those tactics were even less successful.
"That's what we kept telling the boys, to play feet to feet," Westlake Coach Armand Delacruz said. "Our touches just weren't there. Our passes were just erratic."
Westlake's frustration showed when the Wolverines got into scoring position; they were so eager that they fired shots high and wide of the net.
"We needed to finish," Delacruz said. "Many of our shots were 20 feet over the goal."
It was a frustrating end to a season that saw Westlake travel to face two Baltimore County opponents -- Catonsville and Lock Raven -- in an effort to better prepare them for what they might see in the postseason.
Sure enough, Westlake lost both of those matches, but it allowed the Wolverines to see some other competition outside of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference, which Delacruz thinks is part of the reason why no SMAC team has won a game in the state tournament since Thomas Stone shared the 1998 3A title.
"Sometimes you need that special player, but overall, I think we can compete with them," Delacruz said.
SMAC teams seem to relish the underdog role, and many prefer to play the gritty style that lends itself to taking advantage of a break or two. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they will have to wait until next year for that break.
"We really tried to hold our own," Wysocki said. "We're really stepping up, and the SMAC is getting more exposure. We just have to keep playing teams outside [the SMAC], and we'll make it to a state final."