Washington’s Kozuch named County Soccer Coach of the Year

Published 3:19 pm Friday, December 26, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS GRIND IT OUT: The Washington soccer team had its best season to date under head coach Jim Kozuch, reaching the fourth round of the 2-A state playoffs.

GRIND IT OUT: The Washington soccer team had its best season to date under head coach Jim Kozuch, reaching the fourth round of the 2-A state playoffs.

Nothing came easy for the Pam Pack soccer team this fall. Whether it was injury, sickness, underperformance or simply superior opposition, Washington found a way to win almost every time adversity came its way.

Head coach Jim Kozuch made all the right moves, converting his central defender into an attacking midfielder, moving his standout senior midfielder back to defense when needed and even transforming bench players into every day contributors. For his efforts navigating the Pam Pack to a 20-5-1 record this season, Kozuch has earned 2014 Washington Daily News Soccer Coach-of-the-Year Honors.

“It feels great. The guys worked hard this year,” Kozuch said. “We put in a ton of time in the offseason, whether that was playing indoor soccer, spring soccer and the summer league. All the credit obviously goes to them because they got all those wins. It was a lot of fun this year and hopefully it’s contagious and they do it again next year.”

The Pam Pack, powered by senior forward Jorge Rodriguez, was coming off the best season in team history with an 18-2-2 record and a third round playoff appearance in the first season since the team’s relegation to Class 2-A. But a senior-laden team would graduate eight seniors that May, including seven starters.

Kozuch kept expectations high, stressing that a state championship was not out of reach. To start the season, however, Raleigh was the furthest thing from the players’ minds. Washington began the season 1-3-1, dropping hard-fought games to First Flight, Conley and Rose. Injuries plagued the roster early and forced Kozuch to shuffle his deck.

“Even when we finally started winning games, we continued to make adjustments and find guys who were better suited for different positions. Of course, you can’t make everyone happy, but it’s all about trying to find the right combination, which you can find in a win or a loss. This year was a lot of that and I think towards the middle of the season we got in our groove and found positions we were comfortable in. Hopefully we can be the one that stops them next year.”

Once Kozuch finally found that positional combination, Washington strung together an 18-game win streak, going undefeated through Eastern Plains Conference play and picking up three playoff wins.

One of those early season moves was shifting senior midfielder Sergio Higuera to the forward slot. It not only opened up space in opposing defenses, but also gave junior striker Kyle Hodges the necessary support to break the school’s all-time scoring record (40 goals). Higuera also notched the second-most goals in the county with 28. In total, the pair combined for 54 percent of the teams total scoring output.

While the final goal count was impressive, the Higuera move also dropped senior Leo Brown to the back line, where he played alongside Holt McKeithan, Gabriel Valle-Torres and Dylan Singleton. Through the last 10 games, the quartet, supported by productive goaltending from William Tate and senior defender Weston Brown off the bench, held opponents to just 0.7 goals per game.

The rearranging, which seemed to continue throughout the season, were not unplanned, despite a series of sporadic injuries in key spots.

“We made different moves for different teams,” Kozuch said. “A lot of coaches will have their lineup set in stone. We tried to do a little research and see where we needed to load the team up — if we needed to load up the defense and try to win a game 2-1, or if we needed to load our offense and score goals. We did a lot of adjusting.”

From a strictly numbers standpoint, Washington’s bench was not deep. Taking talent into consideration, it proved to be one of the deepest in the conference. In games, Kozuch mixed and matched and stars emerged as a result. As an auxiliary player who battled injury, senior Jose Corona went on to score eight goals, good for fourth-most on the team. But like last season, graduation will force Washington to reload in all areas next year.

“This year we’re going to lose a bunch of good players again, but I think all in all, if we can keep everyone eligible and keep everyone working hard in the classroom, then we should come back and try to get 20 wins next year,” Kozuch said.