By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Early this past summer, Handley sophomore Deni Deyanov planned to vacation in Bulgaria.
To clear time for his trip, Deyanov didn't sign up to play travel soccer for Winchester United, as many of his teammates had.
So it was frustrating, Deyanov admitted, when his vacation plans fell through, and he was left in Winchester without a soccer team to play for.
As logic might have it, Deyanov, who saw spotty playing time last season, would have benefited tremendously from an extra summer of travel soccer.
Instead, he spent the summer months booting a ball around with friends on a Winchester field. And, perhaps irrationally, he practiced taking free kicks, though he'd never before attempted a free kick for the Judges.
"I just practiced outside," Deyanov said, "just practiced with friends."
But this season, it seems, Handley has benefited from all sorts of inexplicable, irrational happenings.
With a 2-0 win over Sherando on Thursday, the once young, inexperienced Judges remain undefeated in the district, and have suffered only three losses otherwise.
Deyanov, the sophomore who'd seen only scattered instances of playing time as a freshman, scored both the Judges' goals, one of which came off one of his finely tuned free kicks.
This makes two consecutive games in which Deyanov has scored a timely goal on a free kick. On May 10, the outside midfielder scored the only goal of a match against Kettle Run on a free kick in the 78th minute.
When told that Deyanov spent the summer not sprinting on a Winchester United field, but confined to his back yard, Handley coach Cosmo Balio did little to hide his surprise.
"Really?" he gasped, "That's interesting -- I didn't know that. It goes against everything that I've ever preached."
Balio searched for a reason, some glimmer of logic, as to why one of his more uncertain players, without benefit of proper training, has become his most reliable scorer: "I guess he's had a relaxed way of coming into it."
But Deyanov has been one of only many surprises for Handley this season. The Judges' win over Kettle Run exacted a gratifying revenge on the Cougars, who'd beaten the Judges 6-1 earlier in the season.
When starting keeper Stefano Frantellizzi missed most of the season with a concussion, backup keeper Jonathan Argueta filled in superbly.
"It's been awesome," senior captain Andrew Marut said of having so many young players contribute so finely to the season. "We had an inexperienced team coming into it, and we just came together really well and just meshed.
"We've been able to play a great game, a very skilled game, and to have that kind of team your senior year is just great."
Marut, for his part, played an indirect role in both of Deyanov's goals on Thursday.
In the 34th minute he sent a long free kick on goal, and Sherando keeper Zach Santmier punched the ball into the right corner. Deyanov chased the ball to the endline, and with no angle to work with, whistled a goal to the far post.
In the 67th minute, Marut was tripped at the top of the penalty box, and Deyanov blasted the resulting free kick by Santmier.
"We just wanted, mentally, to see if we could ... play with these guys and beat them, because, of course, it is Handley-Sherando," said Sherando coach Patrick Anderson, whose Warriors rank second in the district. "It just didn't develop like we thought it would."