BY SCARLETT SALEM — When DeMatha’s varsity soccer team took to the field November 4 to defend their title as conference champions ─ the final game of the 2012 season ─ it hadn’t lost a game for the past three seasons. It was a 62-game unbeaten streak, and it was ranked number 2 in the country. But that day they fell to rival Gonzaga High School in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Championship. The game went into overtime and ended in a 1-1 tie before the teams headed into penalty kicks. Gonzaga won the championship by scoring five penalty kicks to DeMatha’s four.
Regardless of the outcome, the game was the last that the senior members of the team would play together. Many of them had been on the team for three years, forging a strong bond. “They are now lifelong friends and they will forever be there for each other,” said James O’Connor, an assistant varsity coach who has been with the program for seven seasons.
“After the game they were so emotional about everything. It’s hard to tell 17-year old boys how proud we were of the way they played and how they did everything we asked them to and in the grand scheme of things, this [outcome] doesn’t mean much.” said O’Connor.
There are 70 players in the program. Leading the varsity team for the past 11 seasons is head coach Dafydd Evans, who comes from Wales. Assistant varsity coaches are James O’Connor and Tommy Park, junior varsity coaches are Daryl Ferguson and Mike Mastrantuono, and the freshman team coach is John McConnell.
Evans’ European background has influenced the program, O’Connor says. Like in Europe, all the coaches work together and interact with all the players, rather than separating the different teams.
“There’s a reason why we have been as successful as we have been under Dafydd’s leadership; we have learned a ton about the game under him. And Dafyyd does an incredible job of balancing coaching soccer and dealing with the psychology of high school students. He knows how to motivate and how to uplift spirits when they are down.”
The program’s success can be seen in the fact that college coaches attend many of DeMatha’s games to recruit players. This season is no exception – three players have already committed to play for nationally ranked Division 1 collegiate programs next year. Wes Suggs has signed with the University of Virginia, Chris Ogoi-Atsem has signed with the University of Maryland, and Sean Cowdrey has signed with Indiana University, which is also O’Connor’s alma mater. Many of the players play soccer year-round on club teams such as Olney Rangers and Nike Rush.
Most are also heavily involved in other activities at DeMatha, such as the nationally ranked music program, student government, and AP courses.”‘That’s one thing we pride ourselves on, we don’t have to worry about these kids being eligible. They take great classes at a great school and get good grades,” commented O’Conner. As with collegiate athletic programs, high schools have GPA eligibility requirements, meaning that athletes need to maintain a set GPA in order to participate in their sport.
“[This program] is a testament to what one of the seniors said last year. He said, ‘I don’t know if I want to play in college because I don’t know if it’ll get any better than DeMatha,’” O’Connor said.
On November 8, the team officially closed their season with its annual banquet.