New Herndon High boys’ soccer coach Stephen Lee is optimistic that the Hornets can emerge as a top contender in the tough Concorde District this spring.
“We have very high expectations and have set a goal to be in the district [tournament] finals,” said Lee, who was head coach of the Herndon JV boys’ team last year. “Watching this group play [early on] I think we have the talent to do that. I think we have the ability to do very well this year.”
Herndon, two years ago under former head coach Sean Lanigan, experienced a break-though 15-2 season and captured the district championship. Then last year, a much younger, less experienced Hornets’ squad came back to earth. Herndon, under Lanigan, was a respectable 6-6-1 overall and finished a solid third place in the district standings. But the season ended in disappointment with a first round district tournament loss which prevented the team from qualifying for the regional playoffs.
This year’s team, under new varsity coach Lee, has numerous returning players back from last year and has good talent across the board. The Hornets could well be on their way to a big season.
Herndon won both of its pre-season games – an 8-1 win over Falls Church on March 5 and a 3-0 victory over Lee High (Springfield) on March 10 – before tying non-region opponent George Mason High School, 2-2, in its season opener on March 16 in Falls Church. The Hornets fought back from a 2-0 second half deficit in that contest, getting goals from sophomore midfielders Dominic Gallelli and Bryant Fernandez to tie the Mustangs.
Herndon was scheduled to host cross-town rival South Lakes last Friday, March 19. However, as a result of poor field conditions, the game was postponed and re-scheduled for Wednesday, March 24 of this week.
The South Lakes game is set to be the middle game of a busy week for the Hornets, who were scheduled to host district foe Chantilly a day earlier on Tuesday and will wrap the week up with a non-district affair at South County High on Thursday.
Following the South County game, Herndon will spend spring break week (March 29 through April 2) practicing and honing its skills in preparation for road games at Westfield (April 6) and West Potomac (April 8) the following week.
“We want to spend [spring break] kind of jelling as a group,” said coach Lee.
Lee said the early season has gone well in his first season at the helm of the Hornets’ varsity.
“We won our preseason games and played as well as can be expected,” he said.
<b>ONE OF HERNDON’S</b> most exciting players this spring will be sophomore striker Emmanuel Korvah, who is coming off a freshmen season in which he led the Hornets in scoring while earning All-District honors.
Unfortunately, Korvah broke an ankle two months ago and has not yet been on the field for Herndon. He is expected to begin training in a couple of weeks and hopefully be back in action by mid-April, according to Lee.
Korvah, when he returns back and healthy, will give the Hornets a huge lift.
“He’s an all-around [outstanding] striker and very strong on the ball,” said Lee, of Korvah’s game. “He has a great pace and can get the ball behind [the defense] and get in and score goals. He’s a big, dangerous player. It will be great to get him back.”
Another player who will play a vital role to the team’s hopes is senior captain and goalie Alex Stopa, the returning starter at the position who recently committed to play the sport collegiately at Louisville next school year.
“He’s extremely agile and goes above and beyond to make saves you don’t expect him to make,” said Lee, of Stopa’s steady and oftentimes spectacular play in the net. “He brings a calmness to the backline and is always in control.”
Perhaps Herndon’s top defensive player is senior Emile Doak, who after playing as a sophomore for Herndon two years ago did not play for the Hornets last year as a junior.
Instead, he focused all of his soccer time playing for the D.C. United Academy team. But this season, being a senior, he made the decision to leave the Academy team and play for the Hornets.
“He decided he wanted to make high school soccer his priority this year,” said Lee. “He gives us a strong platform to build our defense upon.”
Other Herndon players to keep an eye on this spring include sophomore Patrick McLaughlin at center midfield and freshmen Roman Gall at forward.
McLaughlin is coming off a strong freshmen year.
“He’s another year older and a little bigger,” said Lee. “He’s physically able to handle the varsity game.”
Goll is an outstanding freshmen talent and could be a vital part of the program for the next several seasons. He scored three goals in the practice game win over Falls Church.
“He’s a terrific player with great feet,” said Lee. “He’s physically small but a fantastic player.”
Lee said missing out on the regional playoffs was quite a downer for the club last year. The Hornets are determined to make big waves in the district this season and to give it their best shot at regionals.
“Last year we missed regionals,” he said. “It’s been a goal of ours to have a much more positive season.”
Look for Herndon soccer to carry that out this spring.