Churchill’s J.J. Van Der Merwe was mobbed by his teammates after scoring the go-ahead goal late in the second half Tuesday night against Walter Johnson, and in that moment he couldn’t have been much more at peace.
The American high school experience has been strange at times for the Churchill senior. When Van Der Merwe moved from his native South Africa to live with his father in Potomac two years ago, he had to deal with the shock of showing up every day to a school that had girls, let alone one that didn’t force him to wear a uniform to class.
But the one constant, whether at his all-male boarding academy in Cape Town or the public school in Potomac, has been wearing a soccer uniform. And Van Der Merwe wore it well for the Bulldogs on Tuesday night.
The 6-foot-1, 160-pound senior scored two goals in the final seven minutes, and Churchill picked up a key Montgomery County 4A South match with a 2-0 win over Walter Johnson in Bethesda.
“It’s a very big win, because it makes a statement in the county,” Van Der Merwe said in his thick South African accent. “We’re serious. Our future opponents . . . they shouldn’t think its going to be an easy game.”
With the win, Churchill (7-3-1, 2-1) made up ground in the South — but even with run after run at Walter Johnson (6-4-1, 2-2) in the second half, the Bulldogs had problems breaking through the acrobatic goalkeeping of Ben Meyers, who entered the game with 60 saves and made stop after stop to keep the match scoreless and the Wildcats in position for a win.
“We heard about him and we knew he was going to be a wall back there,” Churchill forward Nathan Ferdowski said. “We knew we had to take our chances, and we did.”
Both chances ran through Van Der Merwe, who broke the scoreless tie with 6:40 remaining in the second half. He roved near the Walter Johnson box until a cross was played directly to his right foot, and the 10-foot goal was a product of being in the “right place.”
His length and bright red hair stood out against the Wildcats, and he added an insurance goal on a Ferdowski cross with about two minutes left. Being on this team was all about being in the right place for Van Der Merwe on Tuesday, and after the second goal he turned around with a wide smile and pointed at Ferdowski, a gesture for one of the teammates that welcomed him to a new life two years ago.
“I knew there was more opportunity for me [in the United States],” Van Der Merwe said. “It was a lot easier to make friends because of the sport.”