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ADAM HIMMELSBACH: Commonwealth rules in boys soccer

One of the the best parts about writing a column is having the ability to make bold predictions and proclamations.

For instance, I think puppies are better than kittens. There, I said it.

Of course, that has nothing to do with sports. But this next statement does.

After years in which the most talented boys soccer teams in Virginia hailed from the Richmond and Virginia Beach areas, the best district in the state at any level now includes the Fredericksburg area.

Yes, the Commonwealth District is tops, and there is definitive evidence to prove it.

The renaissance was set in motion last season. Although Prince William County has traditionally been a strong area for boys soccer, North Stafford and Riverbend emerged to face each other in the Northwest Region title game. The Wolverines won that match and then went on to defeat Thomas Dale, a traditional Richmond power, in a Group AAA state quarterfinal.

That was where North Stafford’s dream was supposed to end, because it was to face mighty Cox High of Virginia Beach in a semifinal.

Cox entered that match with a 54-game unbeaten streak, and among the eight states that play spring high school soccer, ESPN ranked it No. 1 in the nation.

North Stafford improbably won that match, 2–0, then defeated Deep Run of Henrico County to win its first state championship.

It was an impressive feat, but there was every reason to think it was a Fredericksburg-area anomaly rather than the start of a trend.

Then came this season, when Colonial Forge and Albemarle took their turns in the spotlight.

The Eagles, led by George Mason-bound midfielder Kevin Roberts, were the class of the district. They won regular-season and tournament titles—beating Albemarle three times along the way—and entered regional play with plenty of momentum.

Colonial Forge met up with Albemarle in the regional title game, making it an all-Commonwealth final for the second year in a row. But that was just the appetizer in this burgeoning rivalry.

Each team won its Group AAA state quarterfinal. In the semifinals, Albemarle slipped past Lake Braddock on penalty kicks, and Colonial Forge did the same against Thomas Dale. (Thomas Dale must really be sick of Stafford County by now).

Anyway, that set up a rarity: an all-Commonwealth District state championship game. Colonial Forge seemed gassed and Albemarle was surprisingly fresh, and the Patriots took a comfortable 3–0 win.

Even though the loss stung Colonial Forge, the Eagles were able to appreciate their part in their district’s sudden run of dominance.

“Certainly, the level of play in the Commonwealth right now is as high as any in the state,” Colonial Forge coach Jeremy Sargent said. “It says a lot about how far we’ve come.”

Even Albemarle co-captain Rowen Perry, in the afterglow of his team’s win in the state final, took a moment to reflect on the strength of the district.

“The last two years especially, the games have just been battles,” Perry said. “I think it really prepares our teams for the playoffs.”

I’ve covered the majority of these state tournament games the last two years, and what’s impressed me most about Commonwealth District teams is the way they’re winning.

Most play an aesthetically pleasing brand of possession soccer. They prefer to send the ball to the feet of teammates and generate scoring chances by building toward them.

So many other teams, even those in the mighty Virginia Beach area, prefer a kick-and-chase style that sometimes relies on luck.

If someone from a more traditional soccer hotbed is reading this, they might want to see more than a two-year run before declaring a shift in the balance of power. But I’m already convinced. We’ve had two years in a row with an all-Commonwealth regional title game, two years in a row with a Commonwealth state champion, and an an all-Commonwealth state title game.

So enjoy it, Fredericksburg (and Charlottesville, for that matter), because for now, Group AAA boys soccer here is simply the best.

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442