Packer boys soccer team back in familiar spot, advances to state semifinals
Published 4:13 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023
By Matthew Hatfield
It’s not uncharted territory for the Smithfield High School boys soccer program to be in the Virginia High School League State Tournament. Furthermore, the first opponent in the quarterfinal round on their quest to capture a second state title in three years was a familiar one.
Thanks to wins over Grafton (4-1), top-seeded Great Bridge (2-1) and second-seeded Jamestown (4-2), the fourth-seeded Packers captured the Region 4A crown on June 1 to punch their ticket. The Packers beat Chancellor 4-0 in Tuesday’s state quarterfinals to improve to 14-5-1 on the season.
SHS advances to the semifinals against Loudon County at 3 p.m. Friday in Spotsylvania. A win Friday would put the Packers in Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. state title game against the Jamestown-Jefferson Forest winner.
Even after graduating 10 seniors from last year’s squad that made the state semis and an uneven start to the 2022-23 campaign, head coach Jason Henderson remained confident that another deep playoff run was attainable.
“This year, we’re definitely not as deep, but I will say no one wants to play us and we have some kids who are probably better talent-wise than that group,” he said. “It took us a while to get in a groove, but obviously we’re hitting our peak at the right time. We had some injuries in the middle of the year, so we had to switch some guys up position-wise. This is a great group of guys that have really come together. A region title is great, but I think this group has bigger aspirations.”
Henderson reflected back on a May 5 loss to Bay Rivers District foe Jamestown as a pivotal point in the Packers’ journey.
“The first Jamestown game was a big turning point in our season. We lost a hard game to Grafton and then we were down 3-0 at half-time to Jamestown when we finally made some changes. We came back to tie it at 3-3 and ended up losing 4-3, but scored three goals in about a span of ten minutes,” Henderson noted.
“I knew then that we had something special. It just took us a long time in the season to figure it out, and we saved that for the regional run.
The upperclassmen have steered the way with roughly 14 seniors on the roster, according to Henderson. Serving as the headliner is Onesime Muepu, who routinely turned heads last season with a whopping 21 goals and 17 assists.
“Onesime is definitely a big contributor. He’s the engine that makes us run, but he’s not the only one we depend on and I think you need a collective team to be successful,” Henderson said. “Jaylen Marble in the back and Manny Castel have been phenomenal defensively. That really has allowed us to do a lot of things offensively. We’re a defensive type of team first and been able to counter well. We also moved one of our senior captains around in Josh Vincent to be a goal scorer, which he’s done in that department.”
Like with Jamestown, the Packers were able to reverse the outcome from a 4-1 regular season loss to Great Bridge on April 6 by ousting them in the regional tourney.
“We played Great Bridge, probably the best team we played all year, a completely different format than we did the first time. It’s hard to beat good teams multiple times,” Henderson said. “We took the district tournament a little bit lighter to see what we can do and figure out who we were. It paid off as far as that aspect. Beating Jamestown for the region title after they had beaten us twice this season was a big feat.”