By Brad Fauber
Caleb Golladay knows he was placed in a favorable position when he took over as Stonewall Jackson's boys soccer coach last year.
The Generals, a traditional power in the Shenandoah District and consistently one of the better programs in the region, were loaded with talent in 2013 and rode that ability to a 24-game win streak and an appearance in the Group A state championship match under the old Virginia High School League classification format.
In hindsight, maybe all of that surrounding talent and the accompanying success worked a little against Golladay's growth as a head coach.
"I think that was a big deal for me, but also something bad for me, because now this year I come in and we lose [two] straight games right off the bat at the beginning of the season," Golladay, who recently finished his second season as Stonewall's head coach this past spring, said last week. "That was hard. I think that was definitely an area that was rough for me, not really knowing what to do."
After losing eight seniors to graduation in 2013, Stonewall Jackson's 2014 season began on a fairly inauspicious note. The Generals, who hadn't lost a regular season match since March 2012, saw that streak snapped in their opening match against Millbrook, a 4A school that is two classes higher than Stonewall Jackson. Shortly thereafter, Stonewall's impressive streak of five straight seasons without losing a regular season game to Shenandoah District competition ended with a loss to Riverheads.
Suddenly the Generals were 0-2 for the first time in at least five seasons, and Golladay found it difficult to cope with watching his team fail to execute certain aspects that they had consistently worked on in practice.
"This year definitely tested me as a person and as a coach," Golladay said. "We definitely had our ups and downs as a team, as a whole."
The Generals slowly began returning to form following their rocky start, and things turned around quite nicely for Stonewall this season.
There was no return to the state tournament, and the Generals' 12-8 record may be a little off the standard that those associated with Stonewall's boys soccer program are accustomed to, but the Generals surprised many people -- Golladay included -- by reaching the Region 2A East quarterfinals this season.
"The experience level from last year to this year was a big change for us. So being able to cope with that at the beginning of the season and figure how we were going to fit in and who fit where, that was a big issue," said Golladay, who earned the title of The Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Boys Soccer Coach of the Year for the second straight season. "But I think once we found that and were able to see what people were going to fit and who played best where, I think that definitely helped us settle in a good bit. Ultimately that's what helped us get back to the regional quarterfinals."
Stonewall was 1-3 before it won seven of its next eight matches, and Golladay said a switch from the 4-4-2 formation that the Generals had used at least since he played for the program from 2006 to 2010 to a 3-5-2 look may have prompted the more consistent play.
Golladay said his players were "iffy" about the change at first, but jumped on board after their first loss to Riverheads.
"That truthfully was what we needed. That was the switch that we needed and that's what seemed to help us settle in the most," Golladay said.
Stonewall lost two more matches near the end of the regular season but picked up steam heading into the Conference 35 tournament. An impressive 7-1 win over Clarke County in the conference semifinals qualified the Generals for the regional tournament.
The Generals lost their final two matches of the season, as they fell to eventual Group 2A state champion George Mason, 8-0, in the Conference 35 championship before losing 2-1 to state runner-up Riverheads in the Region 2A East quarterfinals.
Of Stonewall's eight losses this season, three came to Riverheads, two to Millbrook -- a Region 4A North qualifier -- and one to George Mason.
"It wasn't that we had a bad season, that we had a bunch of bad losses. It was just the fact that we didn't take all the chances that we could've done," Golladay said. "We lost to quality teams, which if somebody's going to beat me I'd rather it be a team of good quality than someone that we shouldn't have lost to."
Golladay, who will no longer have to deal with the stress of being a college student and a coach after graduating from Eastern Mennonite University in May, will face arguably his biggest coaching challenge yet next season, as the Generals lost 10 more seniors to graduation this year, including all-time leading scorer Roberto Cardoso Jr., Jonas Jacuinde, Leo Galindez and goalkeeper Ryan Zerkel.
"When you lose a total of almost 18 starters -- almost a full team of players -- in two years, it's definitely going to be rough to cope with and hard to deal with next year," Golladay said. "Next year could be a year where we don't see too many wins, but that's the whole part of rebuilding a soccer program, or any program really. You see it with all schools. Every school goes through it."
Golladay hopes that his experience over the last few seasons -- which has encompassed a wide variety of situations and challenges -- will help him and the Stonewall Jackson boys soccer program in the future.
"I do think that with these last two years and being not exactly complete opposites, but opposites in a lot of ways, has definitely helped me as a coach to learn how to win, learn how to cope with things, learn how to make the changes and learn to keep what's going good and change what needed to change," Golladay said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD