CHESTERFIELD, Va – After a five-year drought for conference titles dating back to 2010, Matoaca boys’ soccer broke through last year. Now, it has come back and turned the trick again. The Warriors repeated as Conference 12 champions with a thrilling 1-0 victory over L.C. Bird.
“My teammate Justin Dyke made a selfless pass to me,” said Mason Beltrami, who booted the game-winning goal in the net. “I just kicked it through.”
The goal happened in extra time or the approximate final two minutes of the game. (Video of the goal can be found @RVAGameBreak on Twitter).
While Beltrami’s goal was the decisive blow, he also had the game-winner in the semifinals as the Warriors defeated Prince George to qualify for the 5A South Region tournament for the second consecutive time. Last year, Matoaca nearly got over the hump, falling 1-0 to Hermitage. This past Monday, the Warriors faced Douglas Freeman. (results not available due to press time check @RVAGameBreak).
“In regionals you want to go in there and play the best you can,” said coach Justin Parker. “You don’t get a chance to play against those teams. You read about them and you might hear about what they have. You just have to go in and do the best you can.”
Matoaca’s record stands at 9-1-6, but the team has overcome many challenges during the course of the season. One of those, was losing All-Conference senior goalie John Gardiner, to a season-ending injury early in the season. Parker promoted sophomore Caleb Carpenter, a tall, athletic stopper, to fill in.
“He came up from JV and has played like a grown man,” said Parker. “He’s allowed just five goals in the past 11 games.”
Carpenter stopped everything that came his way in the championship game and took part in a spirited celebration on field after the game. The Warriors hope to check off another goal on their list, winning a region game.
“I don’t think we got a lot of respect a couple of years ago,” Beltrami said. “Winning the conference again proves how hard our coaches and team work.”
The Warriors’ opponent was a team, that by some accounts, wasn’t supposed to be there. In fact, it seemed like the program couldn’t buy a win two or three seasons ago. Though L.C. Bird fell to Matoaca, it became the first soccer team in school history to earn a region tournament berth.
Conference 12 Coach of the Year Juan Chavez said he saw the success coming in his fourth year; he has had the opportunity to coach many of the same players for the past three or four years.
“It’s been a project,” Chavez said. “Now we’re looking at the results of the work we’ve done, along with the support of the school.”
The Skyhawks (11-7 overall record) qualified for regionals on the strength of a 1-0 victory over top-seeded Meadowbrook, whose rivalry is quickly become a big-time one for reasons other than the mere five miles that separate the two schools. Sophomore Brandon Banks netted the game-winner.
Banks is just one of the player who will return next year with varsity experience as the team graduates just five seniors: Shane Albin, Luis Ascencio, Jonathan Crewe, Rufus Kearse and Carlos Sanchez. A strong JV season should bring even more excitement next year.
“Our accomplishments mean a lot for the school and we’re excited about our future,” Chavez said.
Chavez also was excited about sophomore and First-Team All-Conference 12 team member Maynor Reyes, who he called a “Division I player.” He went on to say that the technically-sound defender’s play on the back lines was essential to the team’s success. The team’s two other first team selections junior Darius Robinson and sophomore Kevin Medina also return next season. Robinson led Bird with 14 goals this season.
Drawing a tough matchup in the first round of regionals, Bird lost to Mills Godwin 2-0 on Monday.
Still, soccer’s success continues the growth of sports other than football and basketball over the past few years. The past two seasons, softball has been on the doorstep to regionals. The field hockey team, though they didn’t win a large number of regular-season games, knocked off a traditional power in Matoaca to earn its first berth since 1991. Perhaps the best example is girls’ volleyball, which got to four straight region tournaments and won two the past three Conference 12 championships.
Matoaca Girls Soccer
Matoaca girls’ soccer also found postseason success in the Conference 12 tournament, as it finished in second place and earned itself a trip to the 5A South Regional.
The Warriors advanced to regionals after their 6-0 thrashing of L.C. Bird in the semifinals. Conference 12 Player of the Year Maiya Pencile scored a hat trick, while Madi Thrasher, Megan Ailstock, and Katy Wildeus each netted a goal.
In the Conference 12 Championship, Matoaca jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first half behind goals from Kailey Elder and Pencile. However, Prince George rallied and scored the next three unanswered to come out victorious, 4-2.
“I felt like we did a good job in the first half, especially against Prince George,” said Matoaca coach Erin Kutsko. “Coming out we just lost momentum. Just kind of bummed because I don’t think it really reflects our season. As good as a season as we had, I feel we should have had a better ending.”
Matoaca has indeed had a fantastic season this far, but Prince George has been its stumbling block, as three of its four losses have come to the Royals.
The Warriors hope to get one final shot to avenge these losses in the regional, but first they would have to beat Mills Godwin, a perennial powerhouse from Conference 11. It’s a tall order, but Matoaca holds the experience that every team needs for the postseason.
“We have a lot of girls who have played together for three or four years and I think it all just meshed,” Kutsko said. “Everyone has a great personality and they have fun when they’re playing.”
No matter the results, this Matoaca girls’ soccer team has made history with its first appearance in the regionals since 2011.
Other regional notes: Thomas Dale boys’ lacrosse qualified for their first 6A South Region berth; they’ll be featured in next week’s edition.