Boys' soccer outlook

With seven returning All-Region 2B selections and the starting goalkeeper back from a perfect 24-0 state championship team, it’s not hard to pick the team to beat in Class 2 boys’ soccer this year.

Clarke County began its title defense in style on Monday night, defeating Bull Run District member Page County 19-0 with at least 10 players putting the ball across the goal line (the scorer of the 14th goal was unknown on Monday). The Eagles (probably) won’t maintain that scoring pace this season, but there’s no question they have the firepower to once again score in bunches despite losing their two biggest playmakers.

Led by Class 2 Player of the Year Caleb Neiman (area-best and school-record 45 goals to go with 11 assists) and Menes Ajyeman (area-best 28 assists and 15 goals) Clarke County averaged 6.8 goals per game in outscoring opponents 163-8 last season.

Those two First Team All-State selections are gone, but this year’s team brings back six players who scored at least seven goals. That group includes senior forward Chris LeBlanc (18 goals, 12 assists, Second Team All-State, scored game-winner in 3-2 state semifinal win over Radford); senior midfielder Leo Morris (17 goals, 11 assists, First Team All-State), senior forward Oakley Staples (12 goals, 13 assists, Second Team All-Region; three goals and three assists against Page County on Monday); junior midfielder Cal Beckett (11 goals, eight assists, Second Team All-Region, scored two goals in 3-2 state championship win over Glenvar); and junior midfielder Charlie Frame (nine goals, four assists, Second Team All-State).

Clarke County lost First Team All-State center back Jesus Ramirez but returns several key figures from its stout defense. The group includes junior Joseph Ziercher (First Team All-State), senior Ben Fulmer (five assists; Second Team All-Region) and senior goalkeeper Kyler Darlington, who had 19 shutouts last year.

In the Class 4 Northwestern District, Millbrook (16-5) is coming off a season in which it swept the regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the state tournament for the first time in program history, falling in the Class 4 quarterfinals to Western Albemarle.

The Pioneers will look a lot different in their pursuit of repeating those feats. Seven players with starting experience, including six All-District selections, are gone from last year’s team. Among those who have departed are goalkeeper and co-District Player of the Year Nick Catlett and All-State defensive midfielder Aaron Shipp to graduation, and junior forward Garrett Johnson.

Johnson led all Winchester/Frederick County players with 13 goals last year. Pioneers coach Rhonda Cottino said “no comment” on Monday when asked why Johnson was not on the team this year.

Millbrook returns three of the starting backs who helped limit opponents to just 22 goals in 21 games, though two of them are now in the midfield — Second Team All-District senior Logan Arthur (scored in the team’s 2-1 season-opening defeat to Tuscarora) and senior Tyler Mallen. Junior CJ Zeller-Bender returns as a starting center back. Freshman Brandt Upson had a strong debut in goal with seven saves.

The Pioneers lost a lot of offensive firepower last year but will feature a First Team All-District forward in sophomore Will Demus (10 goals and six assists, which tied for the team lead).

A former Millbrook star will lead a James Wood team that will experience some transition after going 11-7-2 and advancing to the Region 4C semifinals last year. Ronald Velasquez, who graduated from Millbrook in 2020, takes over for Brian Sullivan, who is now James Wood’s coordinator of student activities.

The Colonels had six All-District selections last year. Five of them graduated, including the district’s co-Player of the Year, defensive midfielder Ryan King. James Wood doesn’t know if Second Team defender Ethan Bowman, who is currently in Spain, will be eligible to play. Bowman is studying in Spain and won’t be back in the United States until April 1.

No returning Colonel had more than three goals or three assists last year, but James Wood had no problems filling up the net in Monday’s 7-0 win in the season opener against Skyline.

Junior Tristan Obert had a goal and three assists against the Hawks, a welcome sign for the midfielder who played sparingly last year due to injury but had eight goals and eight assists in 16 games for the Colonels’ state semifinal team in 2021. Sam Frigaard — the younger brother of 2022 graduate and star center back Micah — had a had trick and an assist and sophomore midfielder Seth Rakowski, a first-year varsity player, scored two goals against Skyline.

Sophomore Samuel Sherman takes over in goal for Ben Tanger, an Honorable Mention district selection last year.

Cosmo Balio returned to coach Handley after five years away from the team and guided them from an 0-8-3 mark in 2021 to 13-3-2 in 2022.

Among the four Winchester/Frederick County teams, the Judges — whose first game against Harrisonburg on Tuesday was postponed due to severe winds — return the most offensive production and have five First Team All-District selections back. That group features senior forward Jonathan Romero (11 goals), the junior Fitzsimmons twins Jag (11 goals, seven assists) and Dash (four goals, 11 assists), and defenders Jack Justice, a sophomore, and junior James Fowler (four goals). Handley brings back junior Owen Turnbull (1.00 goals allowed average, seven shutouts) in goal.

Due in part to injuries, Sherando (2-14-1) had a rough 2022. Senior forward Joseph Burton — who has signed with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute — is expected to make a bigger impact after rarely being 100 percent last year. The Warriors will also be led by returning All-District selections Brody Purtell (senior midfielder), Nick Danielson (junior midfielder) and junior goalkeeper Connor Sanders, who averaged 5.3 saves per game last season to lead all area players.

The following is a glance at each area team:

Clarke County

Coach: Patrick Casey, sixth season.

Last year: 24-0 (14-0 Bull Run District); Class 2 state, Region 2B and Bull Run District champions.

Key losses: Jesus Ramirez, Caleb Neiman, Menes Ajyeman, Colin Moran.

Key returnees: Leo Morris, Sr., M; Oakley Staples, Sr., F; Chris LeBlanc, Sr., F; Joseph Ziercher, Jr., D; Cal Beckett, Jr., M; Charlie Frame, Jr., M; Ben Fulmer, Sr., D; Kyler Darlington, Sr., GK; Jackson Ellis, So., M; Brody Murphy, So., M; Emmet Morris (7 goals), So., D.

Key newcomers: Burns Beckett, Fr., F; Johnny Mercer, Fr., M; Wilson Travers, Fr., M.

Casey’s outlook: “We are looking to be highly competitive at the state level again this year. Our sophomore class has improved significantly over the past year and should all be pushing for starting spots throughout the year — Jackson Ellis and Brody Murphy in midfield, and Emmet Morris in defense. We see ourselves as front-runners for the Bull Run District, but know that we will be pushed by teams like Central, Strasburg and Madison.”

Next game: Friday at Central


Coach: Rhonda Cottino, second season.

Last year: 16-5 (11-1 Class 4 Northwestern District); district regular-season and tournament champions; lost to Western Albemarle in Class 4 state quarterfinals.

Key losses: Nick Catlett, Aaron Shipp, Patrick Sigler, Raphael Espinoza, Eric Price, Brandon Riley, Garrett Johnson.

Key returnees: Tyler Mallen, Sr., M; Logan Arthur, Sr., M; CJ Zeller-Bender, Jr., D; Carter Luden, Jr., D; Dev Patel, Jr., M/D; Christian Nixon, Jr., M; Duvan Herrera, Jr., M; Hamilton Lopez (4 assists), Jr., F; Will Demus, So., F.

Key newcomers: Brad Fameni, Jr., GK; Fernando Martinez, Jr., D; Chase Hepner, Jr., D; Angel Magana, Jr., D; Gio Lopez-Aragon, Jr., M; Alex Calixto-Cruz, So., M; Jonathan Coca-Posada, Sr., F; German Hernandez, Jr., F. Brandt Upson, Fr., GK; Brayan Lopez-Romero, Jr., D (transfer from James Wood); Kyle Arthur, So., D; Joel Vasquez, So., M (transfer from Sherando); Juan Arellano Alvarez, Fr., M.

Cottino’s outlook: “As always, we hope to go as far as we can. This entire group has been impressive so far. We are younger this year, but they are working hard to fill the shoes of those who graduated. We want to be as close to the top as possible [in the district]. District games are always a challenge, but I’d be selling these players short if I didn’t push them to work to be their best each year.”

Next game: Wednesday at Skyline

James Wood

Coach: Ronald Velasquez, first season.

Last year: 11-7-2 (6-4-2 Class 4 Northwestern District); lost to Tuscarora in the Region 4C semifinals.

Key losses: Micah Frigaard, Ryan King, Jonathan Resendiz-Trejo, Dashawn Paige, Ben Tanger, Edgar Del Moral.

Key returnees: Tristan Obert, Jr., M; Joey Cannata, Sr. D; Hunter Barnhart, Sr., D; Chris Viera, Jr., M; Owen Swiger, So., M; Ian Longo, So., M; Sam Frigaard, Jr., F; Colin Craig. Jr., M.

Key newcomers: Tristan Escalona, So., M; Seth Rakowski, So., M; Samuel Sherman, So., GK.

Velasquez’s outlook: “We have a skilled but very young team compared to last year. It’ll be a challenge in a district that plays such a physical game but I’m confident my guys will step up to the plate and compete this season. Tristan Obert has really been showing his phenomenal skill. Unfortunately [in 2022] he [wasn’t] able to fully showcase his talent due to injury but he’s ready to go this season. Colin Craig has come in as a completely different player from last year. You can see a lot more confidence in the way he’s playing. He’s very good on both sides of the ball with great skill as well. District games will be very tough and tight, especially with teams like Millbrook and Handley this year. Every game will be a challenge as I believe the team that is most ready to compete and win 50/50 balls will be the most successful.”

Next game: Wednesday vs. Heritage


Coach: Cosmo Balio, 13th season.

Last year: 13-3-2 (9-2-1 Class 2 Northwestern District); lost to James Wood in district semifinals.

Key losses: Sergio Santos, Sam Cornette, Robert Avant, Jonathan Ramirez.

Key returnees: Jag Fitzsimmons, Jr., M; Dash Fitzsimmons, Jr., M/D; Jack Justice, So., D; Jonathan Romero, Sr., F; Julio Claros, Jr., M; James Fowler, Jr., D; Axel Grimaldo, So., D; Owen Turnbull, Jr., GK; Ramon Diaz-Guzman (5 goals), Jr., M; Sebastian Moore, Jr., M; Elmer Sanchez, Jr., D; Eniel Cedillo-Ramos Jr., So., D; Bryce Pollak, Sr., GK; Edgardo Lopez, Sr., M.

Key newcomers: Anderson Arguta, Sr., M; Anthony Tabora, Sr., F; Oscar Guifarro, Sr., D; Angel Hernandez, Jr., F; Eduardo Tabora, So., M; Frankie Gomez, Fr., F; Skip Dickson, Fr., D; Isaac Carter, Fr., M.

Balio’s outlook: “We have some unfinished business that we left on the field last year. Last year we learned how to compete with the top teams and now this year we need to learn to win. If we can learn how to win the small battles each and every day the rest will take care of itself. The boys have come in and started early in the preseason and kept moving forward every day. They say defense wins championships and we feel this is what leads our team. Our backline of Fowler, Justice, Dash Fitzsimmons, Dickson and Turnbull will help us stay in every match. The rest of the group in the midfield and up top led by Romero, Jag Fitzsimmons, Ramon, Julio, and Anthony will be the key to whether this team can find timely scoring to secure wins for us. Our roster is very diverse this year, with our depth coming from our junior class. Owen, James, Dash, Jag, Ramon, Julio, Sebastian and Elmer led the way with their intense focus and drive at trainings and push to make the whole group better. We are a team with varsity experience but we have also added some new talent that makes the staff excited to get to the practice field every day. We should be an exciting group to watch and very athletic on the field. We know there will be ups and downs throughout the season but if we focus on those small details we can hopefully make an impact at the end of the season when it matters most.”

First game: Thursday at Loudoun County


Coach: Pat Anderson, 29th season.

Last year: 2-14-1 (2-9-1 Class 4 Northwestern District); lost to James Wood in district first round.

Key losses: Noah Benavides, Harrison Burrell, Joshua Call, Cody Crittenden, Wyatt Deck, Brandon Fedez-Quiz, Sr., Cooper Freer, Trevor Gates, Gilberto Hernandez, Jacob Iddings, Jacob Steele.

Key returnees: Drew Arnoldy, Sr., M; Joseph Burton, Sr., F; Owen Grose, Sr., M; Brody Purtell, Sr., M; Nick Danielson, Jr., M; Connor Sanders, Jr., GK; Noah Smith, Jr., D; Owen Wade, Jr., M; Tim Hill, So., D; Jack Weisbrod, So., M.

Key newcomers: Eber lvarez-Escobar, Sr., F; Evan Burrell, Jr., D; James McVeigh, Jr., F; Wesley Pendzich, Jr., D; Adam Shobaki, Jr., M; Jared Flores Covarrubias, So., M; Jackson Hepner, So., M; Landon Rust, So., M.

Anderson’s outlook: “We have 10 returners that had plenty of playing time last year. So along with our newcomers, hopefully we can gel as a team and do what is necessary to be successful on the field. The entire team has been putting in the work to make themselves successful. Hopefully, we can have this extended on game day. As for so many years [the district] could be anyone’s to take. Every match is competitive.”

Next game: Thursday at Liberty

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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