Hopewell Remains Calm Amid Start
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 10, 2014, 11:29
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — Prior to the season starting, Hopewell's soccer team spoke of the high expectations they had for their first campaign in Conference 26. The expectations came from an impressive preseason stretch of games including a victory a over Appomattox Regional Governor's School combined with a senior-laden roster ready to make their mark on the program.
While they knew they faced a tough schedule, even they did not predict the type of start which has plagued them so far. Hopewell suffered a 4-0 defeat to Warhill — a Conference 26 opponent to start the year — before falling to a talented Prince George squad by a 5-1 score.
However, the final score of the game was a bit misguided because of the type of extenuating circumstances the Blue Devils endured. Hopewell actually played the Royals to a dead-heat for much of the first half, answering their early-strike with one of their own before a season-ending knee injury to senior Juan Martinez sent shock waves through the team.
It only took eight minutes for a one-goal deficit to become four and a second-straight loss ensued, but weather cancellations forced the Blue Devils to play two more games that week as they fought Highland Springs to a 2-2 draw and fell to Thomas Dale 3-0.
Yet, this is a not a typical 0-4-1 team because of the type of talent they possess. The key for Hopewell is remain focused on the singular goal of making noise in the conference tournament and treat every game as a test before it becomes and one-and-done season.
"It hasn't been as tough as I thought it would be because we made our goal to be the best team we can be before conference tournament," head coach Brad Dalton said before a practice. "They knew the teams that we were going to play over the course of the season were going to be tougher than ones we will see in the conference tournament."
And that is where this Blue Devils' season can make a complete turnaround.
In a week where disaster struck with Martinez's injury and having to play three consecutive games in a three-day span with the final game coming against perennial power Thomas Dale, this team did not quit. In fact, it was against the Knights where they pulled together their best effort of the season.
Their passing was crisp as was their diagonal ball play to make runs into the offensive zone. Yet, the most impressive part of the game came on the defensive side as they held their ground against a possession-orientated Knights' attack. Instead of trying to stab at the ball to gain possession, Hopewell forced the Knights to move forward resulting in turnovers and keeping Thomas Dale out of their rhythm.
However, while they faced just a one-goal deficit at halftime, the three consecutive games caught up to them in the final 25 minutes of play as Thomas Dale netted two more goals to grab a win. The effort was just what Dalton wanted to see out of his team.
"They just went out and played," Dalton said of the team ignoring all of the outside problems they faced. "I told them at halftime that this is what I was waiting to see. They were playing and letting everything we worked on just happen instead of thinking their way through the process. We're now playing rather than thinking and then reacting."
And that is the promising part of the equation for Hopewell.
The team realizes that although they have not played up to what they perceive their capabilities to be, they have improved through each game and in a 16-game season, that is the key. Hopewell may have struggled through the first quarter of the season, but they also have one game remaining against each of those previous opponents.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
They will need to show they learned from the losses to both Thomas Dale and Prince George and correct them in a better effort the next time they take the pitch. Additionally, the players realize that this type of competition can make them a tougher out in the conference tournament no matter what their record says.
After all, co-captain Zack Hipps witnessed the beneficial effects a tough schedule can have on a team's future success while playing on the football team during the Fall.
"I was talking to coach (Ricky) Irby about that today and we felt the same about football," Hipps said. "I thought having the hard schedule really prepared us for getting into the tournament. Playing these hard teams, yeah we might lose a couple, but we are getting better practice."
And if Hopewell can learn from their mistakes and hone in on a successful playing style, they can still be confident heading into the Conference 26 Tournament whether their record indicates they should be or not.