Without the 16 players that graduated last spring, the James H. Blake High School boys soccer team will look different than the group that won the 4A North Region and made an historic run to the state championship.
But, rebuilding? That’s a word that Darien Waters, a senior at the Silver Spring School, wants no part of. Though the Bengals will have to make adjustments — such as, filling the void created by the departure of The Gazette’s Player of the Year Raul Escobar — Waters and his teammates aren’t ruling out a repeat of the historic 2013 season.
“We’re trying to get this idea of rebuilding out of everybody’s heads,” Waters said. “Rebuilding isn’t the goal, the goal is trying to get back.”
Waters is coming off a strong 2013 season, tallying nine goals to help lead the Bengals’ balanced attack. Though he’ll miss Escobar, who led Montgomery County with 17 assists, the 6-foot-1 forward will be joined by Springbrook transfer Jason Davila, a 5-3 speedy striker. It’ll be their first year as Bengals teammates, but the Waters-Davila duo — along with defender Carlos Valdez — played together on the Pachuca Club. Waters’ size combined with Davila’s quickness give the Bengals a versatile attack.
“We feed off of each other,” Davila said. “... He’s pretty big, tall, can dribble the ball. He’ll dribble toward defenders and take them on and make the right pass at the right time as well.
David Edlow, The Gazette’s Coach of the Year, said that the players are still adjusting to each other, but expects the Bengals to save their best soccer for the end of the season.
“For us, we’re just trying to put together a brand new team,” Edlow said. “... Our goal is to have it working real well in late October and heading into the playoffs.”
Kert Mease is entering his 17th season as coach of Germantown’s Northwest, and never before, he said, has he seen a Montgomery County soccer season like the one last year.
In addition to Blake winning the 4A North Region and making school history, Derwood’s Col. Zadok Magruder — a year removed from a 3-12 season — came out of the 4A West by winning all of its regional playoff games by one goal and knocking off the defending state champions, Thomas S. Wootton (Rockville).
“It’s parity, I guess. We’re like the NFL,” Mease said.
Coaches across the county said they expect another wide open season. Magruder and Blake were among the contenders mentioned, but the only consensus was that the gap between the top and bottom teams is shrinking, and that there was no definitive favorite.
David Greene, entering his 36th season as coach of Bethesda’s Walt Whitman, said that about nine teams in the county — including his own — have state championship potential.
“We almost consider our region [4A West] a state championship in itself,” said Greene, whose Vikings lost to Walter Johnson (Bethesda) in the region semifinals. “... If you could get through the region you could have a fairly good opportunity to win the whole thing.”
Silver Spring’s Montgomery Blair returns four starters from last year’s 10-3 team, and though coach John Haigh said there could be a drop off, he’s been pleasantly surprised with what he has seen in preseason scrimmages.
“We’ll be very different,” Haigh said. “We’ll be much more of a possession-style team than looking for individual stars to do their thing, and it’ll be a different game, but I think we’ll still do well.”
In 3A, Wheaton will have a different look after graduating 10 seniors and eight starters from last year’s team, which reached the West Region finals.
“This year it’s a whole new group,” coach Oscar Amaguana said. “... We have to fill in a lot of holes.”