Long-time soccer coaches finally face off

November 14, 2003|by ANDREW MASON

Having traveled the same road for nearly a quarter-century, Williamsport's Stan Stouffer and Pocomoke's Alan Byrd were bound to meet up eventually.

The two longtime, highly successful boys soccer coaches will finally bump heads at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Wildcats and Warriors face off for the first time in the Maryland Class 1A state championship game at University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

While they're unfamiliar with each other, this is not unknown territory for either side.

Williamsport has played in five state-final games, including three straight from 1998-2000, and won twice, most recently in 1996. Pocomoke has been to six finals, winning three of them, most recently in 2001.


The West region champ Wildcats (16-2) earned their sixth finals berth with a 1-0 semifinal win over North champ Loch Raven, while the East champ Warriors (15-3) were 2-1 winners over South champ Oakland Mills in the other semifinal.

Oakland Mills - owner of 12 state titles, including last year's - is solely responsible for the Wildcats' 0-3 showing in their last three state finals.

"It's re-freshing not having to go up against Oakland Mills, at least psychologically," said Stouffer, who's 231-102-7 in his 23 years at the Williamsport helm. "Not that we were afraid, but we've never beaten them."

Instead, the Wildcats, who witnessed the first half of the other semifinal, get the team that beat the Scorpions.

"Pocomoke was definitely the better team. I think Pocomoke will be the best team we've played," said Williamsport goalkeeper Jeremy Draper, who boasts a 0.56 goals-against average. "But they're definitely beatable. If we play to our potential, I think we'll be all right."

The Wildcats, winners of seven straight games, have outscored opponents 82-11 this season. Offensively, they're led by first-team all-state senior forward Ben Jordan (26 goals, 19 assists), senior forward Chris Ciccarelli (22 goals, eight assists), senior midfielder Rhet Troxell (eight goals, 12 assists), sophomore back Phil Jordan (eight goals), senior back Josh Bowers (six goals, five assists) and senior midfielder Tyler Cannon (five goals).

"We've been playing really well and are going in with a lot of confidence," Troxell said. "We've been looking forward to this all season. From day one of practice, we've been working hard to get to the point where we are now."

The Warriors, who are on a six-game winning streak, have outscored opponents, 72-16. Their leaders are second-team all-state junior midfielder Michael Byrd (nine goals, 21A), sophomore forward Rob Goodwin (19 goals, 15 assists), senior midfielder John Brittingham (11 goals, 10 assists) and senior forwards Jackie Whitehead (nine goals, 12 assists) and Ian Snyder (11 goals, four assists).

"It should be a good one. I wouldn't want to pick a winner," Stouffer said. "But, of course, I think my team can win.

"The key, not to be facetious, is going to be who jumps on top first and who makes the fewest mistakes and who gets a little lucky."

UMBC's 120-by-75-yard, artificial-turf field should also have an impact. Williamsport's grass field is 110 by 64 yards.

"No one plays on artificial turf all year," Stouffer said. "It's a fast, bouncy field."

"They're going to possess the ball really well and, on the big field, that's going to help them even more," Troxell said. "But I think our team speed may give them a fit. Hopefully, with a big field, we can stretch them out and find some holes in their defense."

With Stouffer and Byrd matching wits, a good, clean game is perhaps Saturday's only certainty.

"We're both keen on sportsmanship," Stouffer said. "Hopefully both teams will put on a show."

"They probably have a statue of Stan in front of the school by now," said Byrd, who's 224-104-12 in his 24 years at Pocomoke. "He's a good guy and has a really nice team. We just want to come out and make it a good game."

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