By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- It sounds like a terrible cliché, the typical mutterings of a team that's gone undefeated through a regular season and a district tournament.
But the Stonewall Jackson boys soccer team has few options other than to take this season one game at a time.
Two years ago the Generals set their expectations for the season too high, lost the Shenandoah District tournament to Wilson Memorial, and failed to make it past the Region B quarterfinals. Last season they set their sights on simply winning the district, then they romped through the regular season and danced to the Group A state semifinals.
Making the present the most important time of the season creates something of a middle ground between casting expectations too high, and not keeping an optimistic perspective on the season.
As such, highly anticipated games of the future become a non-issue on game-day.
"The one thing we've definitely been talking about is 'Every day, every game'," Stonewall Jackson senior Caleb Golladay said shortly after Stonewall Jackson' 5-0 win over Riverheads in the Shenandoah District tournament final. "The first thing we say before every game is, 'Which game is the most important?'
"It's always right now, and so far this season we've been taking care of everything."
Following the win, a few Stonewall Jackson players held Generals coach Nate Hissong in place on the sideline, while a few others doused him with water from the team cooler, which only hastened what the Friday evening rain was already bent on doing.
"We had some pretty big wins in the state run," Stonewall Jackson senior Patrick Bain said, "but this one's pretty big, just because it's our senior year and we want to finish up good.
"We want to leave on a good memory, not like, 'We won all those years except our senior year.'"
But aside from the trophy presentation following the match, the evening hardly had a championship feel to it. Because of the threat of thunderstorms, no player introductions were given, no announcements: Just warmups, then kickoff.
Only after Generals senior Colton Koontz scored in the fourth minute did Golladay feel the rush that comes with playing in a district tournament final.
Golladay scored later in the half, as did senior Dallas Foltz, giving Stonewall Jackson a comfortable 3-0 lead after 40 minutes.
In fact, the five goals the Generals (18-0) put up on the Gladiators on Friday is the most in three games against Riverheads this season. This only a few days after Stonewall Jackson wiped Buffalo Gap clean with a 12-0 win in the tournament semifinals.
Though Stonewall Jackson is looking no further than one game into the future, there's a feeling among the players that the Generals are playing an extremely high level of soccer, now that the playoffs are here.
"I don't know when or why, but it's within the past few games, it really went up a notch," said Bain, the Shenandoah District Player of the Year. "And in practice, too -- it's not anything different, it's just the intensity level and everything just really seems to be going up a notch.
"As the season progresses, it gets more and more intense."
Stonewall Jackson will host Bull Run district tournament champion Clarke County on Monday, which defeated defending Group A state champion George Mason in the Bull Run final Wednesday.
Dating back to the 2008 Region B quarterfinals, Stonewall Jackson has lost only four times: Once to Clarke County in the 2009 regular season, and three times to George Mason in the playoffs.
This season Stonewall Jackson has beaten Clarke County twice, and has yet to face George Mason.
And though Stonewall Jackson is undefeated, Hissong and the Generals have reached an understanding that, no matter how successful a regular season they had, a blemish in the post-season could mean the end of it all.
"We had the monkey on our back with the 16-0 [regular season]," Hissong said, "But once we started the post-season, our record's 0-0.
"And as far as I'm concerned, that's what our record is right now."
Friday night's shutout gave Stonewall Jackson keeper Hayden Miller his 21st career shutout, a Stonewall Jackson record.