Moments after No. 2 Hylton’s 4-1 win Friday against Woodbridge — a victory that left the Bulldogs two games from a perfect regular season in boys’ soccer — Coach Brandon Walker stood in front of his players as they packed up and insisted they shouldn’t hang their heads.
Yes, the Bulldogs (14-0-0) looked dominant in spurts against the Vikings (2-9-3). They scored three goals in the first 20 minutes and added a fourth with evident ease just before the final whistle.
But there were long stretches of frustrating futility as the team failed to pile up goals against an overmatched opponent. At one point in the second half, a Hylton winger grew so upset by an intercepted pass that he pulled his jersey over his face and walked around like that for a few seconds as play continued.
It did not seem like an enjoyable night for the home team.
“I’m constantly reminding them to have fun,” Walker said. “They just get so focused. . . . Being undefeated is great, but it’s also nerve-racking.”
Hylton’s players admit that their undefeated run has increased their expectations. Meeting such a high bar might be the team’s greatest challenge as it cruises toward the postseason.
“When we make one simple mistake, we get down on ourselves because we have a new standard of how we want to play,” senior defenseman Stuart Anderson said.
Just two years removed from a three-win season, the program has had to adjust to a stunning level of success. The Bulldogs returned nine starters from a team that went 11-6-2 last year, and this season yielded the perfect blend of experience, talent and depth. Friday’s victory was the team’s 12th by more than one goal.
“It’s just the level of intensity and our work rate that changed,” senior midfielder James Yeboah said. “Even in practice, we work really hard because we’re all pushing for playing time.”
Depth also sets the team apart from much of Prince William County. While talent and commitment levels across the area are inconsistent, Walker has been able to draw upon a fervent interest at Hylton. This spring, Walker said, the team had 150 kids at tryouts, leading to some hard decisions.
“It’s been a while since Hylton went as far as we did last year,” said junior forward Jared Dubose, who leads the team with 22 goals. “That created more interest. People saw what we were doing and said, ‘Maybe I want to go to a few games; maybe I want to play.’ ”