By Tommy Keeler Jr.
QUICKSBURG -- Stonewall Jackson's boys soccer team may have lost a lot to graduation from last year's state finalist team, but with the return of Ryan Zerkel and Roberto Cardoso Jr. the Generals still have plenty to be excited about this season.
Zerkel, the team's goalie, and Cardoso, the team's top scorer, provide a lot for the Generals.
"They both have been a very big part of the team since they both got to the varsity team," Stonewall Jackson coach Caleb Golladay said.
Zerkel got playing time as a freshman and earned his way to the starting spot, which he's held since he was a sophomore.
Zerkel said he's always played goalie, and he started playing when he was 6 years old.
"It's always been intriguing to me," Zerkel said, "always been like the leader on the field. It's a lot more pressure because you can let the game-winning goal go by, or you can make the game-winning save. I like the pressure it gives you."
There was never more pressure on Zerkel than last year's Group A, Division 2 state semifinal game against Radford at Salem High School.
The game went to a shootout tied at 2-2. After five penalty kicks, the two teams were still tied, so it went to sudden death penalty kicks. After the first two, the teams were still tied. On the third penalty kick, Cardoso scored leaving it all on Zerkel's shoulders. Zerkel was able to come up with the save on the next kick to send the Generals to the state finals.
"It actually wasn't that nerve-wracking," Zerkel said. "I kind of put it out of my head, and took one penalty kick at a time. I didn't think about what will happen or what could happen -- just one at a time and just focused."
Zerkel said since that experience he's learned to embrace the pressure.
Golladay said it's been great to have Zerkel back there as goalie for the Generals.
"He's always been a bigger guy, a bigger guy that can get to the ball," Golladay said. "He's got good movement. He goes after the ball. He's not afraid to come out of the box. At first that was one of the biggest things -- he was so indecisive and not aware of when he should come in, come out of the goal and try to come out after a ball. That's been one of his biggest things for the past two years he's done pretty well."
Golladay said Zerkel's reflexes and speed have improved, and he's become more confident.
Zerkel will attend Eastern Mennonite University next season and play soccer for the Royals, just like Golladay has done the past four years.
"I was very interested in the school and I saw Caleb [Golladay] had went there," Zerkel said. "I figured it would be a good place to go, good place to play and get a good education. I looked around at some D-2 schools, Pfeiffer and Francis Marion. But EMU just had it all. It was the place to go."
Zerkel may be joined there by Cardoso, who is still considering both EMU and Ferrum.
Cardoso has been a standout scorer for the Generals for the last three years. He led the team and the area with 42 goals last year, and Stonewall will need that from him again this season.
"He's going to be one to look forward to watching in college," Golladay said. "I think he's got a lot to give to a team, in the attacking aspect, whether that be midfield or forward. He plays forward here. He's my goal scorer. He's definitely one of my guys that can go out and almost score on command."
Zerkel and Cardoso will be expected to provide leadership for the Generals this season, and both said they are excited to do that.
Last year's season did not end the way they wanted it to, and the Generals would like to do even better this season.
"We're trying to get back to states and go undefeated throughout the season, if we can again," Cardoso said. "We're not as strong as we were last year, but we're not weak. We got players that can fill in those spots, but we're just going to have to work 10 times harder this year."
Cardoso said one thing that will help the team is that most of the players have been playing together since the were 6 years old.
"We have complete trust in our team. Players that we have great chemistry with. Players that we've been playing with since we were 6 years old," Cardoso said. "So we know everything about each other. We know how we all play, and we just got to get out there and do it."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd