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Headed in the Right Direction

First round district tournament opponents Marshall and Madison High have made steady boys' soccer progress this spring.

When Bill Bak learned he had not been chosen as the new Marshall High boys' soccer coach this past offseason, he shrugged it off and focused on his other soccer endeavors which include working with collegiate, high school and youth teams.

But when Marshall's first choice as head coach informed the school he would, in fact, not be able to devote his time to leading the Statesmens' program, Bak was contacted and asked to take over as head coach - just three days before practices were set to start up.

Bak, who has been coaching soccer for over 20 years, accepted the offer and stepped right in as head coach. The transition as the new Marshall coach - Marshall's third head coach in less than a year - went well, according to Bak who has led the Statesmen through a tough season record wise (4-8-1) but a successful one nonetheless as the Statesmen have showed good improvement and good team unity.

Marshall was scheduled to host a first round Liberty District playoff game versus Madison earlier this week on Monday, May 16, at its own Jimmy Miller Stadium. Evening time lightening flashes, however, prevented the postseason contest between the No. 4-seed Statesmen and No. 5 Warhawks from taking place. It was re-scheduled for the following day.

Bak said the biggest challenge he had in taking over the Marshall varsity boys was convincing them that there would be stability from the new coaching staff and its leadership. The team had struggled through a winless 2010 season, going 0-12..

"I felt for the kids because I was their third coach in less than a year," said Bak. "I knew [another coaching change] was going to be difficult for them. The first thing I had to get the guys [to buy into] was that this was a new regime with a new outlook and we were going in a new direction."

Bak said the varsity team has moved in the right direction this season. He also likes the way the Marshall JV team, under coach Shane Kellogg, has played. The Statesmen JVers were 2-4-6 this season and showed competitiveness as well as aggressive play and a determination to play hard from start to finish, all of which bode well for the varsity program's future.

Coach Bak has tried to implement a winning mindset into his varsity team's players. After going without a win last year, the team has needed some strong encouragement and convincing that things could be different this spring. And four wins, following none in 2010, is certainly an improvement. But Bak said that winning games has not been the biggest priority this season.

"There was an understanding early on [with the team] that improvement was the key, not necessarily wins and losses," said Bak. "All in all, we're going in the right direction. We're trying to get the guys to realize that winning is an option. It's just been a matter of getting the guys to realize this is a whole new program."

Bak, prior to accepting the position as head coach, had studied the recent history of the Marshall program, both its varsity and JV teams, and was left with a strong belief that he could help turn the tide even though the Statesmen had struggled over the last several years. It certainly appears that Marshall soccer, although still getting its feet underneath itself, is showing some steady progression.

Marshall's first win this season, a 2-1 non-district home win over T.C. Williams on March 24, came in its fourth game on its schedule. The Statesmens' other victories have come over Fairfax, 1-0, in a district road game on March 30; over district opponent and guest Jefferson, 3-1, on April 8; and over cross-town rival and visitor Madison, 2-1 in overtime, in the regular season finale last week, Tuesday, May 10.

Some of Marshall's top players this season have been junior defender Brian Szymanski, senior defender Julian Smith, senior midfielder/forward Dylan Goodale, junior midfielder Hotaka Shiomi, and goalies Basheer Al-Kakhan, a junior, and senior David Yearney.

In the win over Madison to close the regular season, Statesmen goals came from Shiomi and Goodale (game-winner). Szymanski recorded an assist in the victory.

MADISON HIGH BOYS' SOCCER, meanwhile, has been under the solid guidance of second year coach Travis Beardall. The Warhawks, who were 6-6-1 last year, are currently 5-7-1 going into the postseason. Madison has played solid soccer for the most part. Scoring goals, however, has been a problem. The Warhawks have scored more than one goal in only three of their games.

"We've actually played good soccer overall, but we've had problems finishing [offensive rushes]," said Beardall. "We've played good possession soccer."

Madison, after losing its season opener to visiting non-district opponent Robinson, 1-0, on March 16, won contests against host Falls Church, 4-3, on March 18, and visiting Liberty District opponent Fairfax, 3-0, on March 22. But a difficult five-game losing streak followed, which included setbacks to Vienna-area rival Oakton as well as district rivals Langley and McLean. Most of the games during that stretch were close, with the exception being a 3-0 district home loss to Stone Bridge on April 1.

Madison got back into the win column on April 15 when it defeated T.C. Williams, 1-0. In their next game, the Warhawks played district opponent Jefferson to a scoreless tie at home on April 29. They then continued a string of four games without a loss with wins at district foe South Lakes, 1-0, on May 3, and home versus non-district opponent Annandale, 5-3, on May 5.

"We started off the season good, then hit a shaky [spell] in the middle of the season," said Madison senior defender Abass Darab, who recently earned First Team All-District accolades. "But we ended with a strong finish. All of us have played together a long time and know how to play tough soccer. We have dominated in possession [of the ball]."

Darab said the Warhawks have worked hard in practice to get and take advantage of scoring chances.

"We do a lot of drills that are centered on shooting," he said.

Coach Beardall said his team has received solid leadership from its nine seniors. As the season has moved on, he said the team has formed more and more into a cohesive unit.

"Team chemistry is always a factor," he said. "We've seen that progress for sure. And we've seen the seniors step up. They've been the glue. We don't have a big-guy striker but we play good possession soccer."

Beardall said his team would like nothing more than to qualify for the Northern Regional tournament. Last year, the Warhawks lost to Jefferson in a first round district tournament game, thus preventing them from earning a region playoff bid. This week's Madison versus Marshall district quarterfinals round winner will not only advance to the district semifinals, but also earn that coveted region playoff berth.

Madison's All-District selections for this season are as follows: First Team - Abass Darab (defense) and Nick Baietti (midfield); Second Team - Reed Iandolo (defense) and Dan Traxler (midfield); Honorable Mention - Ryan Fishel (forward), Mac Perro (defense), and Owen Inkley (goalie).