Whether the Spartans were thrown off by the 5 p.m. start or simply needed time to settle into a groove, the West Springfield boys soccer team found itself trailing six minutes into Tuesday, April 5’s contest at T.C. Williams.
A corner kick gave TC an early 1-0 advantage and the Titans nearly increased their lead in the 20th minute, but Alex Mansaray’s shot hit the right post. West Springfield entered the game undefeated, but the Spartans looked like an underdog in the first half.
"First half, I think we played really well," T.C. junior Manuel Benites said. "I feel as if we dominated in the beginning."
After a slow start, junior Jannik Eckenrode kicked the Spartans into another gear, tying the game with a goal in the 30th minute. Seven minutes later, sophomore Wais Ansary’s goal gave West Springfield the lead and the Spartans held on for a 2-1 victory in Alexandria. T.C. Williams’ Parker-Gray Stadium does not have lights, leading to an earlier start time.
"We’re not used to playing at 5 [p.m.]" said Eckenrode, whose Spartans play the majority of their games at 7 p.m. "We had to find that grit within us and luckily it was an early goal so we had plenty of time. We just kept believing and hopefully we can keep believing throughout the rest of the season and good things will happen."
The victory improved West Springfield’s record to 3-0-3, including a 3-0 mark in the Patriot District. The Spartans played to a tie in their first three games against Stone Bridge, Yorktown and Robinson, and have since won three in a row. West Springfield fell behind Woodson 1-0 on April 1 before coming back to win 2-1.
"We’ve been able to come back from deficits," head coach Andy Saffron said. "I don’t like it, but for whatever reason, if the guys give up a goal, they don’t hang their heads at all. They know … we’ll get our opportunities and we need to finish those. …
"They’ve got fight in them, I’ll give them that."
Eckenrode is in his third season with the varsity and is one of the team’s leaders.
"When Jannik got that goal I think it got everybody to say, ‘Hey, let’s figure this out and not keep going to sleep," Saffron said. "He’s been with us since he was a freshman, and he’s always had really good skill. The best thing about him is he’s got a really big motor. He doesn’t stop playing, he hustles. He’s not afraid to get in on tackles, he’s not just a one-dimensional, I’m-just-going-to-go-into-the-attack [player]. He works for everything, which is a credit to him. He doesn’t just float around and expect guys to get him the ball because he wants the ball. He’ll work for it, demand it and he tries to lead by example and guys feed off that."
Saffron said senior midfielder Josh McNamara and junior midfielder Jesse Esquivel are also pivotal to the Spartans’ success.
West Springfield has finished around .500 the last two seasons. While Saffron isn’t a fan of the Spartans falling behind, showing they can overcome adversity speaks highly for what they can accomplish this year.
"We would dominate certain games [last season], but we couldn’t finish, we couldn’t come from behind," the coach said. "We didn’t have that maturity. So even though we’re very junior heavy, those guys play like they’re seniors because they’ve been with the program for a couple years and that helps us a lot."