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Prep Boys Soccer: Wolverines jelling at the right time

BY ADAM HIMMELSBACH

The North Stafford boys soccer team knew little would come easily this season.

The Wolverines lost the core of their Group AAA state championship team, and they became the Commonwealth District opponent that everyone wants to defeat.

Still, they were not expecting to struggle like they have at times this year.

Some of the returning players were unprepared for their higher-profile roles, and some of the new players were unprepared to join a defending state champion.

“Then guys started realizing this is a different season with a new team and new players,” Wolverines junior Sheldon Sullivan said.

And on Friday night, North Stafford played perhaps its most complete game of this year, bursting to a 4–1 victory over Massaponax.

The Wolverines are now 6–7–1, and with the Commonwealth District tournament just over one week away, they are surely a team that no one will want to face.

“It’s been an up-and-down experience this year,” sophomore striker Joey Slye said. “It’s hard to repeat last year, especially with all we lost, but we’re improving.”

Slye scored two goals on Friday night, and Sullivan and Adiel Manzano added one apiece. Chris Hamilton had an assist.

Massaponax, meanwhile, entered this year as a bit of an underdog in the district, but has since transformed into one of its most surprising teams.

The Panthers are in third place and have shown flashes of excellence. They defeated the Wolverines in their first meeting, but in this game they were just a bit flat.

“We need to not make the simple mistakes that we made tonight,” Panthers coach Marc Smith said. “That cost us a couple of goals. If we clear those up, we can do well in the district tournament. If we don’t, this district is one of the best in the state, and this is the kind of result we’ll have.”

North Stafford was playing without senior co-captain Austin Grebe, who is out with an ankle injury.

Bressler said he hoped Grebe could return for senior night next week. But since Grebe will kick for Navy’s football team next fall, Bressler said he would do nothing to jeopardize that.

On this night, the Wolverines made do without him.

Slye scored twice midway through the first half, and Sullivan stretched the lead to 3–0 with three minutes left before halftime.

Manzano put the game away when he crushed a shot from the top of the penalty box in the 70th minute.

“We really played as a team and communicated well,” Slye said. “We played the ball outside a lot, played to our strengths and strung a lot of passes together. We haven’t done that in a while.”

North Stafford faces Riverbend on Tuesday. The Bears also reached the state tournament last season and have also dealt with growing pains this year.

But Riverbend defeated Stafford 5–2 on Friday night, and North Stafford is clearly finding its footing, so both teams could be ready to rekindle more pleasant memories next week.

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442

ahimmelsbach@freelancestar.com

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