The benchmark over the past decade when it comes to Class AAA boys soccer has been George Washington.
Woodrow Wilson is hoping this is the year that it can unseat the mighty Patriots and makes a return to the state championship tournament held at Paul Cline Stadium in Beckley.
Since the Flying Eagles brought home their last state championship trophy in 2010, GW has won six titles overall, including the last three in a row.
The Patriots also finished runner-up in 2014.
“Within soccer, there is not many times that a team gets to the state tournament that doesn’t deserve it. There is generally a team in every region that can win it,” Woodrow Wilson head coach Steve Laraba said. “GW has been a factory of players for about a decade and they deserve all that they have won. However, I feel like anybody in our region can get them.”
Woodrow Wilson is coming off a 2020 campaign that had them one step away from taking a crack at the mighty Patriots in regional play, only to see that chance slip away at the feet of Oak Hill in the sectional title showdown.
“Oak Hill had a good team that played really well and they beat us. They earned that sectional title,” Laraba said. “We are going to try and reset and build off the positives from last year and hopefully have more consistently successful results.”
Although Woodrow Wilson wasn’t hit hard in the number of graduates from last year, it did lose some quality players that left holes needing to be filled.
“We graduated three starters off last year’s team,” Laraba said. “Evan Donatelli was a four-year starter and Isaac Roop was really solid for us for two years. Both of them got all-state nods. Lance Howland also started in goal.”
Laraba has two quality players competing for the keeper position. Josh Farnsworth, who is back with the team this year, and Nick Gunnoe will battle for the No. 1 spot in goal.
“They are both solid goalkeepers, unfortunately that is one of those positions where you can’t find another spot on the field for the other one,” Laraba said.
Woodrow Wilson also returns three all-state players to build the team around this year.
“Hayden Johnson and Carson Eckley will be extremely important for us,” Laraba said. “Evan Laraba will be back and he had a really good season playing center-back for us.”
Jackson Quattrone is a junior that brings loads of experience with him and will be a very important piece to the Flying Eagles’ puzzle according to his coach.
Laraba also has Connor Mollohan back who he feels could be the hardest working kid in Raleigh County. The sophomore kicking extraordinaire will split time between football and soccer.
“We have some solid young players that are sophomores and some good freshmen that have come in also,” Laraba said. “Tyler Randolph and the Bell twins, Aiden and Cooper, will do quite a bit for us and we are really excited about their contributions coming up.”
“It is going to be a year of seeing who steps up, accepts the challenge and is able to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way. There are injuries and suspensions along the way, so you never know when your name is going to be called.”
Although Woodrow Wilson is no longer a member of the Mountain State Athletic Conference, many of those teams are still on the schedule along with other state tournament contenders.
“I am pretty sure the only school in the MSAC that is not playing us right now is Riverside. The other half of our region is basically the Kanawha Valley, so we want to be sure we get those games in,” Laraba noted. “We play everybody that we can like Wheeling Park and Morgantown. We didn’t play the Eastern Panhandle teams due to Covid last year, but normally we go up there, play Friday, spend the night and play again on Saturday. We will have a challenging schedule, hopefully it gets us ready for October.”
So far in the early going, the Woodrow coach likes what he sees from a chemistry standpoint.
“It is really good so far and they are having fun. We had a good week of practice in early July,” Laraba said. “The upperclassmen have already come up with some appropriate nicknames for some of the freshmen. They understand that is a sign that they like them and are bringing them into the group. So, I like where we are right now. Hopefully we can make it a little less stressful than the Covid season.”