The long winter has been particularly brutal for Oakton’s boys’ soccer team, which nearly has more official games than practice sessions under its belt in the first month of the season. The cold hasn’t necessarily been conducive to the team’s top early-season goal, which is to achieve full health. Oakton is still missing five starters due to injuries, all of whom are key pieces in a plan to return to the Virginia state tournament.
“It’s been miserable,” Cougars Coach Todd Spitalny. “We’re banged up.”
Still, the top-ranked Cougars are loaded with 17 returning players after finishing last season 18-1-2, the lone loss coming in the state semifinal against perennial power Cosby. Oakton has college prospects across the lineup, including forwards Ben Cisse and Armand Jeffris (who has already scored two hat tricks in two games). Penn State recruit Noah Pilato is back after two seasons playing for the D.C. United Academy, and Carnegie Mellon recruit Jimmy Jameson will anchor the mid- and defensive backfield, which is talented but young.
“I think despite all the injuries, we have a lot of depth on the team. A bunch of different guys can step in when we need them to,” Jameson said. “We have a lot of really technical players on our team.”
The Cougars must replace graduated stars in All-Met Patrick Moore and West Point recruit Christian Ollen, and Spitalny plans to at least shore up those departures with the return of injured players including talented senior forward Cameron Santoro. Still, the results through two weeks have been eye-opening. Oakton began the season last week with a 4-0 win over Lee, then followed up with a 5-0 win over Madison. Spitalny said the team had its best training session Tuesday, which replaced a postponed game against Yorktown due to snow. It was the second postponed game for the team this season.
“We’re seeing moments of what we’re looking for,” Spitalny said. “But we haven’t put together a complete [match].”
There will be plenty of opportunities to do so in the coming weeks for Oakton, which by no means has an easy schedule. It must face Yorktown on a rescheduled date, West Springfield on April 7, Lake Braddock on April 22 and will meet Fairfax twice in 10 days at the end of the season.
“It was very painful last year, to lose like that [against Cosby],” Jameson said. “We have a really good chance to win states this year, and we don’ want to have to go through what the seniors did last year.”
Like Oakton, Osbourn Park has endured a slow start to the season. The Yellow Jackets have yet to play a game, and after having their game against North Stafford cancelled Tuesday, are now facing the latest start to the season since longtime coach Larry Nemerow started 24 years ago.
Expectations remain high under Nemerow, who has never had a losing season and led his team to 12 wins last spring. Osbourn Park is now in Virginia’s Conference 8 with a modified pool of division opponents, including Battlefield, which is coached by Nemerow’s son Nathan. The two teams will square off on April 1.
“I am not looking forward to playing against that team. I root for my kid. But I hate to lose,” Larry Nemerow said. “We’re going to do everything we can to win that game.”
Osbourn Park will be led by senior forward Lewin Artiga, who started off last season with a bang and who Nemerow expects to be one of the best in the area this spring. Artiga scored 14 goals as a junior, and he will be among 16 returning seniors from last year’s club. The backfield also returns a veteran group, and will feature a five senior rotation led by Mike Such.
Pushing through the slog is the most immedite task for Nemerow and his team. He said that the group’s maturity and experience will help in future weeks, when the team could likely be playing three and four games every seven games to make up for postponements.
“We’re very deep. We’re mostly seniors. As I say that, we haven’t played a game yet,” Nemerow said. “We’re going to get a late start. We’re a mature group of kids that have been together for three years. . . . I think we're going to be a threat to anybody.”
Mount Vernon, which went on a dramatic run to win the Virginia AAA state title last season, opened the season with a 1-0 win over Lee last week. . . . All-Met Stephen Durbin picked up where he left off as sophomore by scoring a goal in Lake Braddock’s 2-1 season-opening loss to Chantilly. . . . After winning 14 games last season and breaking through to the state semifinals, Forest Park opened the season with an 8-0 win over Stafford. . . . Virginia Tech commit Collin Verfuth scored two goals to lead Briar Woods to a season opening 5-4 win over Millbrook.
1. Oakton (18-1-2)
2. Lake Braddock (13-1-5)
3. Mount Vernon (13-8-2)
4. Chantilly (5-7-1)
5. Tuscarora (21-2-2)
6. Forest Park (14-2-2)
7. West Springfield (8-6)
8. Briar Woods (15-8-1)
9. Yorktown (4-11-3)
10. Battlefield (7-7-3)
(Final 2013 records)