While last year’s Stone Bridge High boys’ soccer team finished a solid 8-5-5 overall and reached the quarterfinals of the Northern Region tournament, Bulldogs’ head coach Randy May came away feeling a little unfulfilled regarding his team’s success. May had believed that 2007 squad would break through and make a strong run to the region title. But the Bulldogs did not quite do that.
"I thought last year we had a real good opportunity to push the envelope a little bit," said May, who saw his team’s ‘07 season end at regionals with a 2-1 loss to Westfield.
There have been high expectations that Stone Bridge would eventually become a region force ever since May became the program’s head coach in 2005. Afterall, May had been at the helm of a West Springfield High soccer dynasty as head coach of the Spartans’ program from 2001-’04.
Indeed, Stone Bridge has been a winner in each of May’s first three years at the helm. He totally believed the Bulldogs would ultimately rise to the top of the region. It didn’t quite happen last year, but has happened this spring.
Stone Bridge soccer finally hit pay dirt as a program last week when the Bulldogs, after winning three 1-0 region playoff games to reach the 16-team region tournament finals, brought home the championship with a 1-0 finals triumph over Robinson on May 30.
With the win, the Bulldogs (18-1-1) garnered their first region soccer crown ever and gained a ton of momentum going into this week’s eight-team Virginia State AAA tournament. Stone Bridge was slated to host Kecoughtan (Hampton) in a quarterfinals round match on Tuesday of this week.
"We’re playing at home," said May, prior to his team’s state playoff meeting against the Warriors out of the Eastern Region. "It’s better then traveling to Virginia Beach to play Cox [High]."
Instead, it was Robinson that, as a result of losing in the region title game, faced the prospect of having to travel to the Tidewater area to take on Cox.
<b>MAY IS THRILLED</b> that this year’s squad has experienced the success he always envisioned it could by winning the region championship.
"I wanted to move the program forward and have a level of success," said May, of his initial game plan upon taking over Stone Bridge four years ago. "I wanted to lay out the future of the program. I tried to give the kids structure."
Now, all the hard work of building the Bulldogs into a champion has paid off. May credited the players he has coached during his tenure at Stone Bridge with buying into his program. And he can’t say enough about this year’s team and its players.
"This year everything has just fallen into place for the team," said May, who’s program has competed in the Northern Region and Liberty District over the past three seasons after having been a part of Region II and Dulles District in his first season. "You look back at the job they’ve done [this season]. I have a lot of respect for them. …It’s been very rewarding. I’m extremely proud of everything they’ve accomplished."
<b>STONE BRIDGE</b> defeated West Potomac, Herndon and Yorktown, all by 1-0 scores, to make it to the title game against Robinson. And against the Rams, members of the Concorde District, the Bulldogs scored an early goal and went on to take the contest by, once again, a 1-0 decision.
The game’s lone score came in the opening minutes of play when Stone Bridge senior and team leader Ronnie Shalban found the net on a shot from 20 yards away. The score was set up on a throw-in pass from teammate Chris Kamara, a junior defender.
"That was a shining moment of the evening," said May, of the goal that proved to be the game winner. "We try to create things on a throw-in. Ronnie is a target [for the ball]. He played it off his chest and was able to play the ball quickly. A basic throw in turned out to be the key moment of the game."
May said the Bulldogs have scored early in several games this season, including an early score in a win over West Springfield.
"It takes some of the pressure and weight off of your shoulders," he said, of the importance of jumping out on opponents early. "We’ve had certain moments when we scored early and set the tone."
Neither May or his players believed Stone Bridge had a lock on the title game contest as a result of the early score. The Bulldogs realized they would still have a battle on their hands against Robinson, and they did. May said his team’s defense bent but did not break over the first half of the game before settling and playing better over the second half.
May credited his defensive unit, which included goalie Matt Miscione and back players Wan Soo Seo, Caleb Robertson, Kamara and Abdul Shaban (Ronnie’s younger brother), with paving the way for the Bulldogs over the course of the four region playoff wins.
"We’ve been able to maintain our composure and intensity," said May, of the team’s defense.
The coach said this year’s Stone Bridge team is comparable in some ways to his great teams at West Springfield that won state crowns in 2001, ’02 and ’04.
The ’04 West Springfield squad, May said, had to be driven in some ways by the coaching staff.
"My last year [there] we had the drive and desire, but [it had] to be spearheaded by the coaches," he said. "Our captains were great guys, but they didn’t verbalize things."
May said Stone Bridge has dogged, determined players such as Shaban and senior midfielder Eric Skogerboe who have taken the initiative of leadership. And he said his top defenders, when the Stone Bridge `D’ has struggled, have challenged one another to play better when necessary.
"They fight and claw and get on each other, but they’ll also hug one another," said May.
"There are some similarities in terms of personality," said May, reflecting on his past Spartan teams and this year’s Bulldogs. "I’ve wanted this team to develop a karma and run with it."
And Stone Bridge has certainly done that.