QUICKSBURG — Matt Burgwald could see early on this season that some of his players did not have the right mindset.
So the Stonewall Jackson boys soccer coach made some changes with his lineup, which helped spark the team to a strong finish to the season. The Generals won seven of their next 10 games, including winning the Region 1B title and advancing to the Class 1 state quarterfinals, after the changes.
“I am a blue collar, gritty soccer coach and I don’t expect anything less than 100 percent,” Burgwald said. “If you’re not willing to play my 100 percent, then you’re not going to represent Stonewall. So sometimes it requires a little tough love to get the players to really appreciate what they have and play to the level that they can play. It took them a little bit of time to really connect their locker room better and play more as a team.”
Burgwald, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2019 Boys Soccer Coach of the Year, said the season started off rocky as he had three players suspended from the team early in the season due to “student errors.” The Generals lost three games in the last 90 seconds of the game and they also had to play a man down (due to red cards being given to some of his players) in four different games. He said despite being a man down in a few games, they were still competitive.
“I think that actually showed the strength of the team and the perseverance to play even a man down and be able to still be competitive,” Burgwald said.
Once the players began to respond to Burgwald’s changes, the Generals became a much better team. They had lost twice in the regular season to East Rockingham, but in the Shenandoah District tournament, they beat the Eagles 5-2
to advance to the tourney semifinals.
Burgwald said they not only played well the second half of the season but also in the second half of many of their games. He said he and his coaching staff constantly made adjustments that helped the team improve in the second half of games and in the latter part of the season.
“We wanted to make sure when they went to East Rock and had lost playing a sloppy game (earlier in the season) that we weren’t going to make that mistake again,” Burgwald said.
After losing to eventual Class 2 state champion Robert E. Lee in the district semis, the Generals bounced back in a big way in the Region 1B tournament. Stonewall Jackson beat Riverheads 4-1 in the regional semifinals and then won its second straight Region 1B title with a 4-1 victory over Altavista.
It was during that game that Burgwald said his favorite moment of the season occurred. Stonewall Jackson senior goalkeeper Blake McCourt entered the contest with about 10 minutes left for his first action of the season. McCourt, who had been the Generals’ goalkeeper since his freshman season, had missed all year due to a leg injury.
“Watching Blake McCourt go out with ten minutes left, a kid that’s been on the sideline to injury,” Burgwald said. “And a kid that has been on our travel team, and watch his face light up. And know the impact as a coach that I could have on a memory for a family was by far the highlight of my season.”
The Generals lost a 1-0 contest to Northumberland in the Class 1 state tournament after advancing to the state tournament for the second year in a row. Stonewall Jackson finished with a 13-9 record.
Burgwald said Stonewall Jackson’s eight seniors were all special and did a great job leading the team as the season went on.
“The seniors are all valuable,” Burgwald said. “Every single one had something to bring to the team. Each one of them brought value not only to the team as far as games but to practice. I found that the players that would have been class clowns last year were a whole lot more serious this year.”
Burgwald said that he was also thankful that Stonewall Jackson allowed him to hire former Central boys soccer standout Elmer Lopez as his assistant coach and head junior varsity coach.
“I was extremely fortunate that they gave my JV coach Elmer (Lopez) a chance because he’s a huge, huge asset to the school,” Burgwald said. “It’s important that we continue to show cultural diversity in our program and have reachable coaches that the players feel that they can connect with.”