Last season, the Kettle Run Cougars won the Evergreen District tournament championship for the first time in history despite a young boys soccer team that included only three seniors.
Cougars coach Philip Roper said that team overachieved.
Now Kettle Run has nine seniors and eight returning starters.
“We have a goal that we want to win the district” regular season, Roper said. “We feel this is our opportunity
“Overconfidence,” he said, “that could end up being our weak spot.”
Brentsville won the Evergreen regular season title last season, repeating as champion from 2011. The Cougars hope to finally check that off their annual list of goals.
Kettle Run’s won’t begin district play until April 12 at home against Brentsville, but the Cougars already have a 2-0 district record. They beat James Wood, 6-0, Friday at home in Nokesville, Freedom in overtime, 2-0, at home March 13 and Mountain View in a scrimmage, 5-2, March 5.
“We looked pretty good, but we’ve still got some things to work on, like defensive set pieces,” Roper said after the scrimmage. “I have a good problem with a team of 15-16 starters for 11 [spots]. I'm not arguing with it.”
The Cougars showed great scoring balance against James Wood with one goal each by juniors Evan Szklennik (two assists), Jake Keiser and Danny Mattson, seniors Tim Coleman and Alex Hartman (one assist), and sophomore Marshall Adzima.
Regardless, there’s no mistaking who lubricates the Kettle Run offense. Szklennik and Hartman combined for 41 goals and 25 assists last season.
With that duo, Kettle Run scored 69 goals in 2012 and finished with a 14-4-1 record. The Cougars’ 3-1 loss to Loudoun County in the quarterfinals of the Region II tournament was only one of four games in which Kettle Run failed to score multiple goals.
"I think we can definitely match that production,” Roper said.
Hartman had 13 goals and 15 assists last season. His 26 career assists rank second all-time at Kettle Run and his 21 goals rank sixth. Szklennik vaulted to third on Kettle Run’s career goals list with 28 last season after playing for Osbourn Park as a freshman and scoring six goals.
“It was easier in the sense that schools didn't know him. Now they’re going to be looking for him,” Roper said. “But he committed to the weight room. He was lanky last year. Now he's muscle with speed.”
Szklennik added about 25 pounds Roper said, after a 2012 season in which he made the all-Region II first team and failed to score in only four games. In four other games, Szklennik scored three goals, including during Kettle Run’s 7-3 victory over Brentsville in the district tournament championship game.
The Cougars lost to graduation defenders Michael Cupp and Austin Newcomber and midfielder Tyler Wilfong, but boast returning starters all over the field.
At midfield, senior Cameron Rijke and junior Joey Brown return, while sophomore Garrett Magill is working his way back from injury. Coleman and Keiser currently round out the midfield.
On defense, Mattson and senior Mike Magill are returning starters, while senior Luke Krazter missed last season with a stress fracture in his foot but started as a sophomore.
“We're definitely excited to have him back. … He's such a good leader,” Roper said. “We've got five or six guys competing for the fourth spot on defense.”
Sophomore Derek Schauss rounds out the defense, while senior Drew Ward is back as goalkeeper after taking over midway through last season.
“We have a lot of seniors, but we’re young too,” Roper said. “We have a solid team even if we have one or two guys go down.
“The strength is their motivation,” he said. “If they lose momentum they come right back at you.”
Evan Szklennik, Jr.*
Alex Hartman, Sr.*
Tim Coleman, Sr.
Joey Brown, Jr.*
Jake Keiser, Jr.
Cameron Rijke, Sr.*
Danny Mattson, Jr.*
Mike Magill, Sr.*
Luke Kratzer, Sr.
Derek Schauss, So.
Drew Ward, Sr.*
†midfielder Garrett Magill (So.*) is recovering from injury
/ On Twitter @jeffmalmgren.