By Brad Fauber
Caleb Golladay has been here before.
As a junior on Stonewall Jackson's boys soccer team back in 2009, Golladay experienced first-hand what it's like to play in the Group A state tournament. That season, the Generals made the 4½-hour trek across the state to Virginia's Eastern Shore for the state quarterfinal round, where they beat host Northampton to earn a trip to Radford for the state semifinals.
Stonewall fell to eventual state champion George Mason in that semifinal round, and the Generals have tried in vain to make the trip back to Radford ever since.
This year, Stonewall is one win away from returning to the boys' soccer final four. Much like the 2009 season, Golladay and the Generals will square off with Northampton in the Group A quarterfinals with a trip to Radford on the line -- only this time Golladay will be roaming the sidelines as the Generals' head coach instead of on the pitch as Stonewall's forward.
"I think going into this game, I have to go into it with more of a strategic outlook. It's my responsibility to make sure that I have the best players on the field at all times, and also that I'm changing things the right way if they would need to be changed," Golladay said. "Going into this game back in 2009, I was going into it as a player knowing that I had to perform well on the field instead of from the sidelines. In both situations, I still have to make sure that I go out and perform well, just in a different role."
Golladay's position within the Generals' boys soccer program won't be the only significant difference in the rematch between Stonewall and Northampton in the state quarterfinal game, which starts this evening at 6 p.m. This year's match will be held in Quicksburg, meaning it is the Yellow Jackets that will be making the long trip across the state for the quarterfinal match this time around.
Home-field advantage played a crucial part in Stonewall's 3-1 win over George Mason in last Friday's Region B championship, and Golladay is excited to have that advantage once more in the first round of the Group A tournament.
"This is very familiar ground for us, being in another state quarterfinal game against Northampton, except this time the table is flipped and we're at home and they're on the road for six hours," Golladay said. "I really think that this will play a huge part in tomorrow's game because we will be at home, in front of our fans, and on the field where we have been unbeaten so far."
Golladay said he didn't know too much about Northampton or what to expect from the Yellow Jackets when they take the field this evening, which is hardly surprising given the 300 miles that separates the two schools.
Northampton -- which fell to Manassas Park in last season's Group A championship match -- was the runner-up in the Eastern Shore District this season, and fell to rival Nandua, 1-0, in the district tournament championship match on May 22.
The Yellow Jackets were the fifth seed in last week's Region A tournament, where they blasted Windsor, 6-0, in the quarterfinals before escaping with a 1-0 overtime win over King William in the semifinals. Northampton then fell to No. 3 West Point, 1-0, in the Region A championship match last Friday.
Stonewall (22-0) appears to be riding an air of confidence that has been steadily increasing as the season has gone along. The Generals began the postseason with a dominating run to its fifth straight Shenandoah District tournament title, and didn't miss a beat with a thrilling 4-3 triple-overtime win over Clarke County in the Region B quarterfinals.
Stonewall followed that with a 7-1 pounding of Amelia County in the semifinals before claiming its first regional title in Friday's win over George Mason.
The Generals have had their eye on returning to Radford since the season first kicked off back in March, but Golladay has continually emphasized taking things one game at a time. That approach has paid off for Stonewall so far, and the Generals are hoping to extend their school-record winning streak to 23 straight games with a victory over Northampton tonight.
"What we do, coach tells us the next game is the most important game, and we never really just look on. We just focus on one game at a time and that really helps us out," said Stonewall senior Juan Luna, who scored seven goals in the Region B tournament. "Right now the most important game is [Northampton]. When they come down here, we're going to beat them. Going to Radford, we're going to do the same thing. We're just going to keep it going."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org