There is a transformation taking place on the soccer fields at South Lakes High School. It began last season with the varsity boys team, which finished its 2012 campaign with a 9-5-4 record, an impressive feat after years of losing. The boys squad has continued trending upward this year, currently sitting at 7-1 heading into Friday’s game against Jefferson.
The Seahawks‘ rise would not be complete without a similar turnaround by its girls program, which has long wallowed at the bottom of the bucket in the Liberty District. So far this spring, the girls have delivered, having already exceeded their highest win total in years with a 6-1-1 record that is still five games shy of next month’s district tournament.
Its glossy record isn’t the only sign of change for the South Lakes girls team. Fresh faces fill the Seahawks‘ practice field, from the team’s nine underclassmen in the starting lineup to its new coach patrolling the sideline. Talking to players and coaches, you can feel the enthusiasm all around, a palpable urge to strive for opportunities ahead while leaving an unremarkable legacy in the dust.
“We’ve got these six freshmen that have come in, and they don’t know any better. They just want to play,” said Mike Astudillo, who took over the reins at South Lakes this year after four years coaching Chantilly’s girls team. “They’ve totally soaked up this new vibe of competing with anyone. We can do whatever we want as long as we put in the hard work and get organized quickly.”
Indeed, Astudillo is no more new to South Lakes than most of his starting lineup, which includes six freshmen. It reminds him of his first year at Chantilly in 2009, when he coached five freshmen on a varsity squad that went on to win the state championship that year.
“It’s the same kind of hunger here, the same kind of kids,” Astudillo said. “It’s the same makeup that I just can’t even coach. It’s just something they have.”
Astudillo’s side relies on staying organized in the back and taking advantage of chances in the attacking third, a rather defensive, grind-it-out style that has worked to their advantage so far this season. All-District sophomore goalkeeper Sara Vigen anchors a back line that pairs junior Lindsey Gibson with two freshmen, Gabby Alcantara and Kaitlyn Gallagher. That unit has remained steady through the team’s first seven games, allowing just five goals while recording three clean sheets.
A knee injury to captain Ellen Gose, a junior midfielder, put extra pressure on sophomore Elise Andrich, who has responded with a team-leading six goals this year. An opportunistic midfielder who demonstrates creativity on the ball, Andrich has tapped into her competitive energy to fuel a South Lakes attack that can afford to be extra aggressive with the reliable defense at its back.
The Seahawks’ influx of talent might be attributed to the redistricting changes initiated in 2008 that have rapidly expanded the school’s student body. As more and more freshmen arrive, teams like the one in front of Astudillo seem to get younger and more talented.
Perhaps that’s why Astudillo has made his team’s mantra “The Time is Now!” With the arrival of talented players more accustomed to club soccer than the tradition at South Lakes, the Seahawks figure the time is ripe to make a long-awaited run through the postseason.
“We’re really committed this year,” said Vigen, a team captain who plays travel soccer for Elite Clubs National League. “We’re working together as a team and everyone’s in it. We all want to win it, and we have the motivation and the drive this year.”
The tone was set last Tuesday in the team’s Liberty District opener, which pitted them against defending Northern Region champion Stone Bridge. Ranked No. 1 in the Washington Post All-Met poll, unbeaten Stone Bridge entered the contest having outscored South Lakes 13-0 in the team’s previous two meetings. Yet the Bulldogs managed only a 1-1 tie this time around, thanks to a converted penalty kick by Andrich with less than two minutes left in regulation.
South Lakes players celebrated that result like it was a World Cup win, relishing the realization that they could hold their own in the face of any opponent. It’s the type of mentality that their new coach instilled in them from day one. Assuring them that great heights could be reached with consistent dedication, Astudillo proceeded to conduct practices at 5:30 a.m. to help his players gain an edge during the preseason.
“He’s really getting us driven and motivated, and we’re just all working together,” Vigen said. “He works us hard, which is good because we’re a talented team. We could have been just as good last year if we had worked this hard.”
Astudillo stood near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday to watch his wife, Molly, complete the race. Thankfully, they both had left the course and were back in their hotel when the bombs went off that afternoon.
The Seahawks’ new coach will now do his best to put those horrors behind him and look forward to promising developments ahead at his new school.
“I think with that mentality and the skill that we have and the youth that we have, the future is bright for South Lakes,” he said.