- Julius Cohen
Same Team, New Look
It is difficult for any team coming off a championship to live up to expectations. It doesn’t help that the School Without Walls Penguins boys soccer team lost almost their entire starting lineup since the last full season.
In October 2019, Fueled by consecutive dominant wins to close the season, the team nabbed the 4th and final seed in the 2019 DCIAA semifinals.The Penguins were seeded last and garnered little respect from the field. Worse, they had to play Bell - who had shut them out just 13 days earlier in a stifling 2-0 victory. Bell loomed large on the DCIAA table; with no losses in DCIAA play and a full squad of well-coached, strong, physical players.
The lights, however, were not too bright for the Penguins. From the first whistle, Walls played with unmatched energy and determination, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead. But the Griffins weren’t fazed. Walls supporters watched in dismay as the tide shifted and Bell evened the score. With less than 10 minutes remaining and the momentum clearly favoring Bell, it seemed as if the time left in a Penguins uniform was waning for senior stars such as Zack Barrette and Kalani Takamura. But Barrette provided the game-winning goal from well outside the 18-yard-box. The team kept up their stellar defense and held off last-minute pushes from Bell. Walls fans stormed the field to celebrate a trip to the finals and an opportunity for Walls’ first boys soccer championship.
The Penguins met Theodore Roosevelt for the championship on November 2. Zach Barrette delivered 2 more goals as the Penguins took their first DCIAA soccer crown in school history in a 2-1 victory. “It was like being a parent and watching my kids grow up, overcoming their obstacles,” said head coach Mario “Moon” Moonasingh. For coaches, parents, and players alike, victory was an emotional and new experience.
A strong junior class from that 2019 championship squad gave Walls hope of repeating in 2020. But COVID-19 had other plans, and when DCPS cancelled the 2020 soccer season, high-impact juniors like Langston Jones and Mateo Nawar saw their Walls careers quietly end, missing their opportunities to lead Walls back to the title. In 2021, the Walls boys soccer is an entirely different team.
For the Penguins, it was rough going in the early days of the season. In a friendly match vs. the Maret Frogs, the team took a brutal 4-1 loss, with their only goal coming in the final few minutes. Already shorthanded on defense, 3 Walls players went down to injury in a physical and frustrating matchup. None of the injuries turned out to be lasting, but they dampened team spirit nonetheless. The loss at Maret was followed by a 4-2 defeat at DC International School.
Despite the score, Walls’ match against DCI offered glimmers of hope. After digging itself a 0-3 hole, the team came out with urgency after half, and pushed the score to 2-3 before surrendering a fourth goal. As the game went on, the team worked harder, and worked better together. Midfielders like Demetrius DeMammos, Jack Meltzer, and Devon Bush stepped up and made valuable plays in the second half.
“We struggle when we try and do things alone, when we don’t hold the ball well and let the other team dictate the pace,” said senior defenseman Taylor Maxson about the game.
Of course, the 2019 championship squad had its ups and downs as well. The 2019 Penguins dropped their season opener 3-1 against DCI, followed just 2 days later by a 3-1 loss to the Wilson Tigers in their first DCIAA match. So, a few early losses could mean little over the course of the season.
“We still need to gel,” said junior defender Kazim Hall. The team certainly seems well on its way to coming together. Walls played their first two DCIAA games on September 20th and 22nd. In 2-1 and 2-0 wins against Cardozo and Roosevelt respectively, the Penguins began to play more and more as one. A beautiful cross against Roosevelt from left wing Sean Maxfield, tapped in by midfielder Aryan Amin, highlighted the opening week of DCIAA play for Walls.
This year’s team is still developing on the offensive end. In 2019, upperclassman wings Ahmad Isaac and Mateo Nawar added dimension and physicality to the offensive third, with Zack Barrette taking an attacking midfield role and providing offensive firepower from the middle. This year, crafty and skilled players like sophomore Jack Meltzer and junior Demetrius DeMammos will have to take up the role controlling the middle. “Once we control the middle of the field, we can easily get it up to our attack,” said senior Nick Crozat. Lacking the size of previous years, this year’s Penguins will need to focus more on sharp passing and ball control to maintain possession in the center of the field.
At the top of the formation, senior Michael Fowlkes’ speed and strength make him a scoring threat. On the wings, senior Sean Maxfield and junior Lorenzo Govoni stretch the field, opening opportunities for others.
According to Maxfield, passing and finishing in the offensive third is still a work in progress. “We have a lot of opportunities,” he said. But, he says, the team still needs to turn those opportunities into goals - something the 2019 Penguins excelled in.
This year, the focus turns to a wave of new talent, which according to Coach Moon, is some of the best Walls has ever seen. “We don’t have to be dependent on two guys anymore,” he said. “We have players all around that can make the play.”
While highly-skilled new players like sophomores Jack Meltzer and Miles Felix provide a new spark, the team is anchored by returning talent on defense. “Coach Moon really wants us to be a team that can play from the back forward,” said Maxson. “We put a lot of emphasis in practice on starting our offense with the defense.” Much of this year’s leadership and experience will come from Walls’ stellar line of upperclassmen on defense, including senior Mark Martinez at goalkeeper.
The DCIAA field is wide open -- even with strong teams from schools like Wilson, the trophy is up for the taking. “We just have to look ourselves in the mirror, and ask ourselves how bad we want it,” said Moon. “Our strongest competition is ourselves.”