South Lakes players pile on one another to celebrate their victory over Yorktown in the Virginia Conference 6 championship game. (Steve Stassinos)

John Hughes’s sophomore season was trial by fire, as he moved from midfield to starting goalie, a position he had not played before. He had to adapt quickly, so he spent the 2014 summer working on keeper drills and watching videos. Anything to give himself an edge.

Two years later, Hughes remains between the pipes and is the defensive anchor for a South Lakes team in the midst of a historic season.

The Seahawks defeated Yorktown, 8-5, on Friday to capture their firstConference 6 title, and they are trying to make history again in the Virginia 6A North region tournament, where they’ve never won a game.

“Back then, I wasn’t really that much of a leader. I was kind of quiet,” said Hughes, a second team all-conference goalie. “Now as a senior I’ve had to really step up and be the leader of the team and the captain. It’s changed a lot.”

John Hughes isn’t the only South Lakes player stepping up. His younger brother, Matt Hughes — the conference co-player of the year — has been in integral part of the Seahawks transition game all season. The junior scored twice in the win over Yorktown, turning defense into offense as a long-stick midfielder.

The Seahawks (13-1) went 5-7 last season, but the turnaround hasn’t been a surprise, John Hughes said. South Lakes returned most of its starters, including senior Eric Ottman, a first team all-conference defenseman.

Junior JC Sipher returned after missing his sophomore season with a broken collar bone and is the team’s leading scorer. Seniors Tommy Jung and Nate Campbell both have 30-plus points, while sophomore Spencer Alston (Ohio State), freshman Stevie Jones and junior Eric Kiss lead a talented midfield that has helped transform the team into a contender.

The Seahawks secured a top seed in the region tournament, which begins with Tuesday’s first-round game against Stonewall Jackson at Herndon.

“All the guys that were coming back, we knew that we were going to be good and we just needed some time to really get bigger and stronger and all that,” John Hughes said. “We knew we had the pieces. We just really focused.”


Chantilly is the defending region champ, but defending state title winners Tyler Iriondo and Robinson look like the team to beat. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Virginia 6A North region vital stats

• 16 teams

• Semifinals: Wednesday, May 25 at top seed.

• Final: Tuesday, May 31.

• Defending champion: Chantilly (Story)

• The four semifinalists advance to the Virginia 6A state tournament.

No. 1 seeds: South Lakes, Patriot (11-5), Robinson (14-2), South County (13-4)

Darkhorses: Centreville (10-5), W.T. Woodson (13-4)

Potential games to watch:

South County vs. Chantilly — first round, Tuesday

Centreville vs. Lake Braddock — first round, Tuesday

Patriot vs. W.T. Woodson — quarterfinal, Thursday

South County vs. Robinson — semifinal, May 25

Breakdown

Robinson hasn’t lost to a Virginia school all season and is the favorite, but will have its hands full, with a likely second-round matchup against Yorktown and lockdown goalie Mason Pollack.

Defending champion Chantilly had a disappointing regular season by its own lofty standards, but has a chance to play spoiler in the first round against top-seeded South County.

W.T. Woodson has a No. 2 seed but might be the favorite in its region after an impressive regular season that included a win over No. 1 seed Patriot, and close losses to Robinson and South County.

Centreville (10-5) plays Lake Braddock (7-6) in the first round, and the winner faces South Lakes or Stonewall Jackson.