By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Juan Luna didn't expect any part of his junior season at Stonewall Jackson to come easy. With only three seniors on the team, and with seven sophomores and five freshmen on the team, each Generals win, Luna knew, would come only sporadically. And each would be hard-fought.
"I felt like this year was going to be a rebuilding year," said Luna, who in his freshman season started on an extremely talented side which advanced to the Group A state semifinals. "I didn't think we were going to compete for the [Shenandoah] District, or in the district tournament."
And so Luna, The Northern Virginia Daily's Boys Soccer Player of the Year, spent this past offseason doing the same thing he'd spent every offseason at Stonewall Jackson: Gathering teammates and organizing pickup soccer games as often as he could.
The names were different, sure, but that's how high school soccer works: The big names come, the big names go, and small names fill the void.
And so the process repeats. Over and over.
Players carpooled with each other. David Dodson, for example, brought with him those Generals who live in Mount Jackson. Matt McCampbell brought players from New Market.
And for hours and for days, the Generals played pickup soccer on a small field at the Triplett Tech campus in Mount Jackson.
Luna was primed for his best season yet: He boasted a technical skill few other players could match, and a powerful shot few keepers could stop. All this was evident even when Luna was very young.
When he was 2 years old and living in Guanajuato, Mexico, Luna joined a soccer academy with Monarcas Morelia, a professional club in Mexico.
When Luna was only 5 years old, he said, he scored 36 goals in 12 games and was named Goal Scorer of the Year. Still only a 5-year old, he soon joined a U-11 team.
At 7 he moved to the U.S. and played Parks and Recreation soccer. He eventually played travel soccer for the Norfolk Hurricanes.
As a sophomore at Stonewall Jackson, Luna's 17 goals were second-most on the team.
But this past winter Luna, and the Generals, hit a snag: Luna, playing indoor soccer at the Sportsplex in Winchester, broke his collarbone contending for a 50-50 ball.
He knew immediately what had happened: "I heard two cracks and I knew it was broken," he said.
The Generals wouldn't only miss Luna's technical ability -- they would miss his presence, and his leadership, and his ability to control the pace of an entire game, as well.
Stonewall Jackson lost its opening match, 7-0, to Clarke County.
Luna was cleared to play in Stonewall Jackson's second game, against Strasburg, but for precautionary reasons he didn't start.
But after 15 minutes had passed and Stonewall Jackson had yet to score, Generals coach Nate Hissong put Luna in. Within five minutes Luna had a goal. He scored again in the 32nd minute, and again in the 50th minute.
And from that game on Stonewall Jackson, though littered with first-year varsity players, played like an experienced team.
"After that it was a completely different team, whether he was on the field or not," Hissong said. "That confidence he gave us was very important."
Luna went on to score twice against Central, twice against Luray, and had an assist against Riverheads. Three games into the district season, the young and rebuilding Generals had full control of the Shenandoah District.
Even when Luna reinjured his collarbone and missed another seven games, Stonewall Jackson played with a confidence and a swagger quite atypical of such a young team.
Roberto Cardoso stepped up in Luna's absence and went on to score 19 goals, the most ever by a Stonewall Jackson freshman. Freshman Jonas Jacuinde eventually tallied eight goals and 10 assists.
"Juan was this calming, stabilizing force that gave us the confidence we needed, and allowed us to work those players in," Hissong said. "When he went out, we were just ready."
Stonewall Jackson went undefeated in district play and advanced to the Region B tournament quarterfinals.
As for himself, and in limited action, Luna scored 19 goals and had 7 assists. He was named first team all-Shenandoah District, and first team all-Region B.
Hissong said that, because of Luna's collarbone injury, he was never really at full strength this season. He said that, in one year, Luna's senior season will really be something to watch.
And with nearly its entire team returning, this once-youthful Stonewall Jackson team will next year be the team to beat in the Shenandoah District. And Luna isn't too bashful to admit he has his sights set on once more getting out of district, out of regions, and back to states.
"Just going there and experiencing all that," he said, "I just want to experience it one more time."