Walter Johnson Boys Soccer Wins Fourth State Title

Walter Johnson Boys Soccer Wins Fourth State Title

Wildcats record second straight shutout for first championship since 2006

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Walter Johnson boys soccer team

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Walter Johnson High School boys soccer coach Hector Morales said he is not one to celebrate a victory early or take any opposing team or situation for granted. But when senior forward Zion Friday scored to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead with 10 minutes left in regulation of Friday’s state final against Harford County’s Bel Air, he breathed a sigh of relief.

“At that point, I believed that we were not going to give up two goals in 10 minutes,” Morales said. “My backline and my goalkeeping, the team knew what it took to be in a tight game and I was confident we would be able to finish those 10 minutes and get the result we wanted.”

Walter Johnson, which led 1-0 at halftime after Aldo Ruiz’s long-range shot in the 28th minute, went on to score twice more to seal the 4-0 win and the program’s first state title since 2006, fourth overall. Late goals by seniors Alex Bukharin and Bobby Riffle provided more cushion.  The win contributed to Walter Johnson’s sweep of state titles Friday; the girls soccer team beat Baltimore County’s Perry Hall 3-2 with an overtime goal scored by senior Cammie Murtha.

“It was an incredible night,” senior central defender Felix Wu said. “It’s something we had been waiting for, for a long time. We knew we had something special. The bus ride home, after the girls won their first title, it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Wu played a major role in turning what could have been a weak point, into a strength. Morales’ confidence in his team’s defense Friday was certainly founded. The Wildcats, competing in arguably the state’s toughest region, gave up only 10 goals this fall and shut out 10 opponents.

But, after graduating virtually its entire backline from a year ago, defense was Walter Johnson’s biggest question mark to start the season. A three-year holding midfielder, Wu told Morales he would play wherever he was needed and then accepted—and thrived in—his new role at center back.

“Felix is one of those guys, he’s a leader; he was able to lead the younger guys and really organized them [in the back],” said Riffle, who took over as the Wildcats’ holding midfielder. “He also made sure I stayed back sometimes. He helped me develop into the player I became at holding midfielder.”

Losing Wu in the midfield gave up a lot, Morales said. But Riffle’s presence there was just what Walter Johnson needed. This fall was the Air Force Academy mens soccer recruit’s first time playing for the Wildcats. His previous commitment to U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy precluded him from participating in high school soccer.

“I always thought it would be so fun to play for my high school,” Riffle said. “After I committed [to the Air Force Academy] over the summer, I decided it would be super fun to play in high school and hopefully get a run at states. It all worked out, we had the right team, the right players, everything just fell into place. …It meant a lot to me, there’s a lot of pride in bringing the state championship back to WJ. My brother played [in the early 2000s].”

Morales said Riffle’s arrival and ability to fill the void Wu’s move to the backline would leave in the midfield was “a blessing.” And it lent itself to perhaps the Wildcats’ biggest strength this fall: there were no areas on the field for opponents to exploit.

Walter Johnson had strength and depth in every position—Morales was able to give every single player time in Friday’s state final—and it helped not only to keep players fresh during games, but throughout the arduous season.

“A friend of mine came down to the game from Pittsburgh, he hadn’t seen the team play all season, and the one comment he made was that we had no holes on this team,” Morales said. “We were a solid team in every position and there was no one we had to hide. That’s rare, in high school soccer, that you can have a team where everyone knows their role and is capable of fulfilling their role.”

The Wildcats were senior-laden this fall and all 13 seniors, including Friday, Riffle, Bukharin, Ruiz, Wu, Justin Hahn and goalkeeper David Goodstein, played an integral part in the team’s success, Morales said. And though they will certainly leave behind some gaping holes to fill, Riffle said he truly believed the talent and depth among this year’s underclassmen provides a bright future.

“Depth was a big factor in our run,” Riffle said. “If you look at all the positions, we had great players starting, but you could also go deep into the bench. Even if we had to pull key players out, we had others who could come in and get the job done and that was a huge boost for us late into playoffs. If you look at the sophomores on the team, there are a lot of really good players and prospects for the future.”

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