Mount Vernon sophomore Simond Kargbo, reduced to tears, told his teammates there would be practice during spring break.
Head coach Robert Garza, originally planning an off day, called a team meeting on April 14. He issued personal letters he had written to each player about self motivation and overcoming adversity. In the letters, Garza wrote about his mother’s battle with breast cancer, a fight Brenda Garza eventually lost 16 years ago. It’s a personal topic for the coach, one Garza said he had never used when speaking with a team.
Little had fazed the Mount Vernon boys soccer team during the first month of the season. The Majors used what they felt was a lack of respect from local media as a driving force en route to an 8-0 record, while outscoring opponents 14-3. But after a strong start, Mount Vernon’s first loss delivered a new batch of motivation heading into spring break — and the team’s first taste of adversity since losing captain Amardo Oakley to injury prior to the season opener.
Mount Vernon lost to Washington-Lee 2-0 on April 13 in a battle for first place in the National District. Prior to the game, Garza said the team had played its worst game of the season two days earlier during a 1-0 victory against Stuart. Mount Vernon’s struggles continued in Arlington as the Majors surrendered a goal to W-L standout Eric Schmidt in the 27th minute and never recovered.
"We did have a bad game against Stuart after coming off wins against Yorktown and Centreville," Garza said. "It wasn’t like we were big-headed, but we knew we were a better team [than Stuart]. … Somehow, we just came out flat. … We were worried about that going over into the W-L game."
The loss left the Majors emotional and searching for answers. Garza spoke with the team the day after the defeat in an attempt to motivate and address issues. Kargbo announced there would be practices at Woodlawn Park during spring break for those who weren’t leaving town. It was also determined the practices would be players only.
Last year, Mount Vernon started 6-0 before losing to Yorktown. The Majors struggled to bounce back, going 0-1-2 in their next three games. This season, the Majors appear to be handling adversity through hard work.
"I was stunned," Garza said of the team’s desire to practice during spring break, "but stunned in a good way."
Mount Vernon will return to action on April 27 at home against last season’s region runner-up McLean. The Majors will host district opponent Hayfield on April 29.
Through nine games, Kargbo, a forward, leads Mount Vernon with five goals and four assists. Sophomore forward Erik Rodriguez has four goals and junior defender Bryan Castellon has three assists.
Prior to the W-L loss, the Majors received some of the respect they were looking for. ESPNRISE.com ranked Mount Vernon No. 40 nationally in the April 11 edition of the Powerade FAB 50 spring soccer poll. The Majors dropped out after the defeat, but were still ranked No. 10 in Virginia in the April 18 ESPNRISE.com rankings.
Garza said being ranked nationally is a tribute to coaches getting students at Whitman Middle School interested in soccer and ready to play by the time they enter the Mount Vernon program.
"That’s huge for us," Garza said. "Mount Vernon soccer has never seen the likes of this before. … It’s a true testament to the players, digging down deep and playing well as a team."