Washington, Southside enter soccer playoffs

Published 6:10 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2015

SURVIVE AND ADVANCE: Washington’s Jose Gamboa makes a cut in the Pam Pack’s regular-season closer against Beddingfield. Washington and Southside

SURVIVE AND ADVANCE: Washington’s Jose Gamboa makes a cut in the Pam Pack’s regular-season closer against Beddingfield. Washington and Southside.

Playoff soccer kicks off Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. Both Washington and Southside have earned the right to host their respective first-round matchups. The Pam Pack (21-1-0) earned the second seed in the 2-A eastern region while the Seahawks (13-6-0) earned the 12th seed in the 1-A eastern region.

Washington rides into the first round with the momentum of an 8-1 win in its regular-season finale against Beddingfield. Despite Monday’s weather, the team was able to work in some practice time at the indoor facility at Athletic Edge Sports and Fitness Center. It’s not often that a school — especially at the 2-A level — has access to an indoor soccer facility, so that should prove advantageous.

Coach Jim Kozuch didn’t have a ton that he wanted to correct about the Pam Pack’s form, and understandably so. With the exception of a 4-2 loss at No. 1 First Flight, they have been nearly perfect this year.

“Everybody is a little bit more focused right now,” Kozuch said of the team’s playoff mentality. “We moved the ball around really well. All we did was break up into teams. Ball movement looked great.”

The goal was to work on quick passes and making good touches. One of the only critiques Kozuch had from Friday’s game was that the midfield broke down a few times. The team was without one of its center midfielders, but working on midfield play was still a focus on Monday.

“Running the ball through the midfield is important,” he said. “It’s one thing we’ve tried to do all year long. When we get out here, it gives guys more touches. This is a great way to build the midfield. It gets guys more touches and makes guys more comfortable.”

Southside was held off the field Monday and Tuesday, too. The Seahawks spent Monday inside and practiced on their tennis courts on Tuesday. Their focus was very much the same in that they were simply trying to get as many touches as they could. Other than that, coach John Lohman wants his squad to play about the same game that yielded success in the regular season.

“Position-wise and tactic-wise, we’re going to play the same game,” he said. “The biggest thing is preparing mentally and emotionally. We came out against Northside thinking we had them beat and it’s 1-1 at halftime. Part of that was the field, but part of it was us coming out there and not playing the way we’re capable of playing in the first half.”

Leadership is an important part of that mental preparation. The Seahawks will find a lot of that leadership in their defensive corps. Juniors Ethan Harris and David Romero will be key players, but Lohman also expects his younger players to step up in a leadership capacity.

Kozuch hopes to see something similar occur with Washington. He knows the likes of Kyle Hodges, William Tate and Holt McKeithen will provide those valuable intangibles. It’s the players that emerge during the postseason that will take the Pam Pack to the next level.

“Usually during the playoffs, we’ll look for a guy that will come out and step up that hasn’t really shown that leadership,” Kozuch said. “A lot of times we’ll get late bloomers right now. We have a couple of guys on the team — those young guys — that didn’t go through the playoffs or were knocked out early. They’ll be a little bit more serious and focused now.”

The plan is for the Seahawks to have sophomore midfielder Jesse Lohman return to the lineup.

“He had a big-time role before he got injured,” Lohman said. “We expect him to step back in.”

On attack, both Washington and Southside force the opposition to play zone defense. Both teams have a wealth of scoring threats that make man marking nearly impossible.

“Anybody up front is capable of scoring,” Lohman said of the Seahawks’ scorers. “It’s really good because you can’t focus on just one player. We’re not a one-man show … You have to play zone defense against us or you’ll end up leaving gaps open.”

Washington hosts No. 31 South Granville and Southside hosts No. 21 North Duplin. Both games kick off at 6 p.m.