Covenant’s boys soccer team has scorers. But the foundation? That’s in the back.
That’s where three senior defenders, Giulio Degiorgis, Michael Seelman and Bryson Alley have lined up together for three years and joined forces with goalie Will Maupin two seasons ago. It’s the kind of tight-knit unit that gives a soccer team a state championship-level backbone.
A championship that finally came to fruition for that group Friday night in a 3-2 win over Seton in the VISAA Division II title match at City Stadium in Richmond. It’s the program’s second state title and first since 2013.
“There’s a real cohesion, there’s a lot of composure and the way they play together is just phenomenal to watch,” said Covenant coach Bryan Verbrugge. “We had moments this season that were truly beautiful.”
With three goals from Soren Scott, Degiorgis and Josiah McCaskill giving the Eagles a 3-0 lead early in the second half, Covenant seemed on the verge of a blowout, but Seton fought back, scoring essentially back-to-back goals by Andrew Nguyen with about 10 minutes to play, cutting the Covenant lead down to 3-2 and forcing the Eagles to hold on tight.
“Honestly we sweated out about the last 30 minutes,” Degiorgis said. “It was a big, big fight. Big props to Cade Kuehler, he was definitely resilient up there in the middle, I give a lot of credit to him and the center mids getting back and working like crazy.”
It was a particularly nerve-wracking closing few minutes complete with Seton — who’d lost just 2-1 to the Eagles in the regular season — missing a shot high and drawing a corner kick just seconds before the referee blew the final whistle and set off Covenant’s celebration that seemed to be part dogpile, part exhausted collapse wherever each player was standing. The Eagles’ celebration really kicked into gear when they celebrated with a strong contingent of Covenant students who’d set up directly behind the benches and stayed loud throughout the entire match.
Scott struck first to give the Eagles a first half lead, unleashing a high blast that bounced off the leaping Seton keeper’s hands and trickled into the net. Not satisfied with trying to hang out to that one goal advantage, the Eagles struck early in the second half, with Degiorgis collecting a rebound off his own header attempt off a corner kick and ripping it home for a 2-0 lead.
“Rebounds are always pretty dangerous because the man marking usually falls apart so I saw it go off the post and I just tried to make a play on the ball,” Degiorgis said. “I got a nice hit and it rippled.”
McCaskill’s goal made it 3-0 and for a long stretch appeared to put the game out of Seton’s reach. The Eagles’ senior captain, leading scorer with 27 goals on the year and likely state player of the year got the ball on the left flank, made a quick move to his right and found a window.
“Soren played a beautiful ball in and I saw the defender commit to much and it was just one touch inside so I’d have a shot,” McCaskill said. “Good things happen when you shoot.”
The win also exorcised some demons for the Eagles, who were tripped up in the state final four a year ago with an unlucky goal against North Cross that ended a promising season. This year they came in as the No. 2 seed and rolled 4-0 past Carlisle before winning an overtime clash in the state semifinals with a late goal by Scott lifting them to the win over Trinity Christian. That frustrating finish a year ago seemed to drive the Eagles all season.
“Last year’s disappointment fueled this year’s fire,” said Covenant coach Bryan Verbrugge. “The guys finished well.”
The title is Covenant’s now, with a huge eight-player senior class — Degiorgis, Scott, McCaskill, Jack Barr, T.J. Tyler, Alley, Maupin and Seelman — capping their career the best way possible with all eight contributing to the win in the final game in a significant way.
“From last year losing at North Cross to just going every practice session saying we’re the seniors, we’re the leaders here, this is our team, this is our year,” McCaskill said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
The win’s impact didn’t immediately set in for everyone.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, I still feel like I have to go to practice tomorrow,” Degiorgis said.
Degiorgis doesn’t have to worry about practice. The champions can rest now, their work is done.