Knights lose in state semis, recognized as a national soccer powerhouse

The 2012 season for the Thomas Dale Knights boy’s soccer team has been another wildly successful campaign. It’s something the community should be used to by now. Since Mark Fowler took the reigns as head coach in 1998, it’s been one of the most successful and consistent programs in the Central Region- and with two championships and six state tournament appearances in the past nine years- it is a dynasty. After a first round state win over James Robinson 1-0, the Knights fell Friday night by way of penalty kicks 4-2 against Colonial Forge in the state semi-finals.

“It was a hard fought match,” said Fowler. “When it comes down to penalty kicks, it’s close.”

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Dale finished this season with a 20-2-1 record, winning their 13th straight Central District regular season championship, and their second Central District tournament championship in the past three years. Under Fowler, the Knights have won 13 of the last 15 Central District Tournaments.

Senior and future Virginia Tech student athlete Dan Lauretano led the team this year with 26 goals and 18 assists on the season. Lauretano goes down as one of the best players in school history.

“We obviously wanted to win to continue the dynasty,” said Lauretano, speaking of Thomas Dale’s back to back state championships in 2005 and 2006. “But one thing we took from this season is that we’re a family – we work for each other and we pick up each other’s slack.”

That strong concept of teamwork resonates in Fowler’s players on and off the field, and it’s shown as the Knights have gone 285-33-5 during his tenure as head coach. For those math gurus at home – that’s a 89.6 winning percentage over the past 15 seasons. In both 2005 and 2006 when Dale won back-to-back state championships, they ran the table. In fact, Dale’s winning streak of 67 games that lasted from 2005-2007 is a state record.

“Coach Fowler is the pulse of this program,” said Lauretano. “He emphasizes class, and teaches us to be gentleman – both on the field and in the community.”

Fowler, a native of Ponpypridd, Wales in Great Britain has been coaching soccer his whole life, and was involved in several soccer organizations in the area before landing the Thomas Dale head coaching job.

“The best part about this [job] has been being surrounded with great people,” said Fowler. “Not only great soccer players, but great people,” he continued. “Great people tend to do things right and when you do things right, great things happen.”

For the Knights, it seems that there’s a river of soccer talent flowing through the hallways. With a graduating class of nine seniors- Cary Berryman, Antonio Carrabotta (First Team All-Central District), Brendan Fields, Zach Fisher, Tony Groben (First Team All-Central District), Lauretano (First Team All-Central District), Coleman O’Neill, Anthony Prevost, and Alex Turley- that leaves 16 underclassmen- and among those are All-Central-District first team standouts in Austin Correia, Evan Fowler, Vaughn Fowler, and Grayson Smith.

“The team will be different next year,” said Fowler. “Grayson [Smith] should be able to score some goals,” he stated. “That type of play, x-factor play, really determines whether or not you win games.”

Lauretano, now a Hokie, is the winner of two straight Central Region player of the year awards. Lauretano hopes to join the ranks of Dale soccer alums Roger Bothe and Jordan Evans, who both played for the Richmond Kickers after their college careers. And also the ranks of University of Virginia senior Will Bates, who was named First-Team All-ACC in 2011 despite tearing his ACL last October. With a proper recovery from injury of course, Fowler stated that Bates could be a candidate to play Major League Soccer. Overall, the program under Fowler has produced 24 college athletes, and that number will almost certainly increase by two as Carrabotta and Groben are weighing collegiate options.

“I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to play college soccer at such a high level,” said Lauretano. “The ACC has so many powerhouse teams, it’s going to be very exciting.”

This season Dale was ranked as high as third in the nation by an ESPN.com high school soccer poll. There has been a growing sense of pride in the program in the hallways of the school as well as in the community.

“We have a tremendous sense of pride wearing a Thomas Dale jersey,” said Lauretano. “We think of playing soccer in a professional sense – we have big shoes to fill.”

For the future, under the tutelage of Fowler, there’s no reason to believe that Thomas Dale’s soccer field won’t be full of gentlemen who are just looking to play a good game of football.

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