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At the beginning of the boys’ soccer season in March, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology coach Sean Burke thought a return to basics in the offseason might produce a competitive squad.

“What we did last season didn’t really work,” he said of the previous team’s relaxed, hands-off approach during the offseason. “This year we went back to the old way of doing it. The boys got together, played pick up and we ran some preseason practices.”

Burke thought the change might produce some results, especially after a 3-6-2 record in 2011 that saw the Colonials lose in the first round of the Liberty District tournament.

Ultimately, the goal was just to be competitive. But in the fashion of most Jefferson students, the team has exceeded expectations.

With one regular season game remaining on Wednesday night, Jefferson (5-1-6, 4-1-1) sits atop the Liberty.

The team’s district mark is nearly good enough to secure a top three seed in next week’s district tournament, and the school known for brains — not team sports — soon could be chasing soccer titles.

“I wouldn’t have placed a dollar on us beating McLean, Langley [and being No. 1 in the Liberty] in the same year,” Burke said. “It’s puzzling, but fantastic and great that it’s worked out this way.”

Jefferson’s road to the top has been on the back of their senior goaltender Alex Park, who Burke said has been the linchpin in the Colonials’ defense.

Park has posted back-to-back shutouts, which include an impressive 2-0 victory against Langley. The win was his fifth shutout of the season, and this year he’s played in five games where he’s allowed one goal.

“There are a lot of good goalkeepers in the Northern Region, but he’s just fantastic,” Burke said. “I can think of only one goal this season I thought he could have gotten. That’s remarkable after 12 games.”

Helping Park on defense are defenders Samy Singh and Ian Ladner. The two center backs have been a solid force, providing Park with a strong defense to work behind.

“Those three have been our big three,” Burke said. “They’ve turned in a lot of great performances.”

Offensively Jefferson sports a balanced attack, opting to use various players instead of feeding the ball to one star. The Colonials don’t possess the most intimidating attack of teams in the Northern Region, but Burke said they’ve grinded out wins with hard work.

Nearly every victory the Colonials own is a 2-0 or 1-0 win, and all but one tie this year has come with a score of 1-1.

“Soccer’s funny because sometimes you can get two shots and you get two goals,” Burke said. “Then other times you get 10 shots and just one or no goals. That’s how it’s been for us.”

Jefferson’s appearance at the top of the Liberty standings means the Colonials will own home field advantage for the first round of next week’s district playoff.

The Liberty is one of the hottest conferences in the Northern Region boys’ soccer scene, and the Colonials won’t know for sure until Wednesday night where they will finish the season.

“We could be any number of places,” Burke said. “We could be first, second or third. If we get third, we might have to play Madison who beat us this year, so that would be tough.”

For now the Colonials aren’t focusing much on their placing, but are rather just enjoying their season. With one game left on Wednesday night, Burke admitted each time he looks at the record he does a double-take.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve been surprised this season,” he said. “I’m more shocked. The boys believe in themselves and each other.”

ralbers@fairfaxtimes.com