By Brad Fauber
As Stonewall Jackson prepares for Saturday's Group A boys soccer state semifinal match against Radford with a berth in the state championship on the line, the message from head coach Caleb Golladay is simple -- just keep doing what you've been doing.
After all, what else can be said to a team that has rolled to a perfect 23-0 record this season?
"I think the only thing that can be said is the fact that we are two wins away from being named state champions. This has been a great year and we've been perfect so far and the only way that we can come out on top is to be perfect throughout these next two games," Golladay said. "These are by far the two biggest games that any of these guys have ever been in. We've accomplished so much, and all we have to do is play 160 minutes of great soccer and it's all ours."
Stonewall cruised to its fifth straight regular season Shenandoah District title with a impressive 16-0 run earlier this year, and the Generals didn't slow down when the postseason kicked in.
The Generals outscored their opponents by a combined score of 21-1 in three matches during the district tournament, and Stonewall overcame a major obstacle in a 4-3 triple-overtime win over Clarke County in last week's Region B quarterfinals.
From there, Stonewall thumped Amelia County, 7-1, in the regional semifinals before winning its first Region B title with a 3-1 win over George Mason (another state semifinal team) last Friday.
Things slowed down a bit for the Generals in Tuesday's lackluster 2-1 win over visiting Northampton in the Group A quarterfinals, but Golladay said he isn't concerned about any carryover from that game as the team travels to Radford University for the semifinals.
"The game against Northampton wasn't our best by any means, but we've talked about what we didn't do well and what we need to do to make sure that we don't play like that this weekend," Golladay said. "The game on Tuesday is in our past and we aren't focusing on anything other than the game that's in front of us on Saturday against Radford."
The Bobcats (20-0) should provide Stonewall with its toughest match yet, as Radford is also riding the wave of an impressive postseason.
Radford -- which made four straight appearances in the Group A championship match from 2007 to 2010 -- has dominated nearly every opponent it has run across in the playoffs to this point, outscoring teams by a combined score of 26-2 in six postseason matches.
The Bobcats' closest playoff contest this year was a 2-1 overtime win over Glenvar in the semifinals of the Three Rivers District tournament two weeks ago, and Radford is coming off a 4-0 win over Lebanon on Tuesday in the Group A quarterfinals.
"I anticipate a very good match with Radford, seeing how both teams have undefeated records. We've both been perfect up until this point, and Saturday's game is going to be the deciding factor on who stays perfect and who goes home with their first and only loss," Golladay said. "It's going to be a very good game that the team and I are all looking forward to."
In order to prepare for this weekend, the Generals practiced on the turf field at Eastern Mennonite University in nearby Harrisonburg on Wednesday, where Golladay currently plays for the men's soccer team. Golladay said the turf more closely resembles the Bermuda grass surface at Radford University, although the soccer semifinals have been moved to Salem High School.
Golladay said practicing on turf allowed Stonewall to get a better feel for the "flat and more true surface that we'll see this weekend."
"They took advantage of getting used to the surface and the way the ball is going to move," Golladay said. "It's a completely different surface than what we've played on throughout the season and the guys seemed to adjust pretty well."
It should also help the Generals that Golladay has experienced the state tournament first-hand as a player for Stonewall in 2009, when the Generals last advanced to the state semifinals. Oddly enough, Golladay isn't the only current member of Stonewall's boys soccer program to have experienced the Generals' last trip to Radford.
Senior midfielder Juan Luna, who missed what would have been his senior season last year after a forced stay in his native Mexico while trying to obtain his permanent residency card, was a freshman on that same team. Luna said there is no doubt that his initial foray into the semifinals will help him cope with the atmosphere the second time around.
"It will definitely help me a lot, because everybody talks about it, everybody thinks it's going to be so crazy and everybody is going to be so happy about it. But once you're there, it gets real," Luna said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com