Historic Boys’ Soccer Season Ends in Region Final
The Jaguars’ goal at the start of every season is to win a state title, Coach Kert Mease said, and it’s a realistic one. Northwest, which has only posted on sub-.500 season in 15 years, has been knocking on the door of the season-ending championship and this fall made its second region final appearance in four years. But with its 2-0, Class 4A West Region II final defeat to Thomas S. Wootton on Oct. 29, the Jaguars will have to wait another year to try and break through to the state competition.
The new playoff format introduced this year should help Northwest take that next step. This fall, for the first time in its history, the state tournament included a quarterfinal round. Therefore, instead of having each region’s Section I and Section II winners play for the title and a bid to states, both were deemed region champions and two teams from each region advanced to the state championship. From there, the teams were reseeded. This new format benefits loaded regions like Montgomery County’s 4A West.
“When you look at it, most years, there are probably six or seven teams that could make a case for winning the region,” Mease said. “Now instead of having to beat one of those teams to beat one of those teams in the regional final, you don’t have to see them until later; it evens things out. Oftentimes a team got eliminated in the regional final but might have been the second-best team in the state. Now you have a chance to get a little further.”
The region final loss to Wootton marked the first time all season that Northwest (11-4) was shut out. The Jaguars’ possession-style offense and plethora of scoring options helped them net a program-best 47 goals this fall. Senior Armaan Kureshi led the way with 13 goals, followed by senior Carlos de Paz Hernandez and junior Seni Joseph, who added eight apiece.
“We scored the most goals (in a single season) in school history this year, so we were able to finish our opportunities and were always in a game because we could score,” Mease said. “It was not just one guy who was scoring, which made us more dangerous. … This team was also pretty cohesive, which helped us a lot as well.”
Northwest also did a good job of keeping its opponents off the scoreboard. Led by senior center back Liam Giffin and goalkeeper Ryan Oxenford, the Jaguars’ defense tallied six shutouts this fall and gave up more than two goals in a single game only five times in 15 games. Northwest, which only lost to eventual state champion Whitman 2-1 earlier this season, kept Wootton scoreless in the region final until the last four minutes.
Though the Jaguars will have some holes to fill next year after graduating nine players—eight of them starters—this spring, Northwest should return several players capable of keeping the program moving forward. Sophomore Kevin Peprah, who Mease said would likely be starting for most programs, did well off the bench this fall and should join Joseph as one of North- west’s primary scoring options next year. And junior holding midfielder Nicholas Shirley should continue to be a major factor in the Jaguars’ transition game.
“We’re always in the mix,” Mease said. “We’ve been very close (to getting out of the region) and hopefully next year, we’ll take that next step and get through.”
Senior Golfer Caps Off Career With Top 10 Finish at States
The best golfers are those who are able to adapt to the various scenarios they find themselves in during a given round, or tournament, Northwest senior Jenny Hua said. From changes in weather to course conditions, there are many factors that can impact how a golfer plays on any given day and the ability to adjust is imperative. Hua’s mental strength has been perhaps the most improved aspect of her game this fall, she said. And while she admittedly didn’t play her best rounds of golf at the Class 4A/3A state competition hosted by the University of Maryland Golf Course, she weathered the brisk conditions, remained tough and never gave up. The result: a second consecutive top 10 finish.
Hua, who finished 2018 with the lowest scoring average of any Montgomery County golfer, male or female, finished tied for ninth place in the individual girls’ state competition on Nov. 4, just one stroke out of eighth.
“I didn’t play as well (at states) as I would’ve hoped, but I think my short game this year was a lot better and considering how cold it was, I (hit the long balls) pretty well,” said Hua, who has verbally committed to play for the Amherst College (Mass.) women’s golf team in 2020-21. “I think my mentality when I step onto the course, and all the calculations you need to make, has really improved a lot. So, when I face tough situations, I’m able to figure out (how to handle them).”
Hua, whose whole family plays golf, hit the links for the first time when she was 7. Her uncle brought her out onto the golf course whenever he was on babysitting duty, she said. By 11, she was playing tournaments and by 15, she had won her age group at the 2016 Maryland Junior Girls Championship.
Currently ranked No.1 in the Middle Atlantic PGA Junior Golf Championship Girls 14-18 Division, Hua has finished in the top 3 of all six tournaments she’s played in 2019—she won three of them and finished runner-up twice.
“I think what sets her apart from anyone I’ve coached is that she’s so driven,” said former Northwest golf coach Raj Gupta, who coached Hua during her sophomore and junior seasons. “Her work ethic is incredible.”
Though Hua is quite unassuming in stature at a slight 5-foot-3, Gupta said he was impressed with her tenacity while mostly competing against boys during the high school golf season. Unlike in junior tournament play, high school golf is co-ed and as Hua led the Northwest team in recent years, she often matched up with some of the area’s top boys. But she didn’t let that intimidate her, Gupta said.
“The thing with golf is that you’re playing against the course, and you’re playing against yourself, and that lends itself to the type of person (Hua) is,” Gupta said. “She’s very analytical, very intelligent. Golf is about processing a lot of information at once and she just stays focused, goes out there and takes care of business.”
Hua, whose younger sister is in seventh grade at Kingsview Middle School and plans on playing golf at Northwest, said she hopes her success has shined a light on girls’ golf for younger females in the community.
“I think golf is a sport that not only helps you develop a strong mentality, but also gives you perspective on how to deal with (adversity),” Hua said. “You learn how to deal with difficult situations. And it’s also just a great way to make friends.”