With the regional tournament starting up this week, Oakton soccer coach Todd Spitalny sat down to discuss his team’s growing momentum heading into Wednesday’s first-round matchup against South Lakes.
Question: Your team suffered a couple of surprising regular-season losses, but you’ve outscored your last three opponents 9-1, including last week’s 3-1 win over Herndon to claim your second straight Conference 5 title. What’s the difference between your group now versus when you began the season?
Answer: The biggest problem we had early in the season was that the kids were looking at themselves trying to compare themselves to last year’s Oakton. The reality is there aren’t many teams you can compare last year’s group to. Last year’s team was one of the best that’s ever come through the state in the last 15 years. So the pressure of finding our own identity and being ranked No. 1 in the country, which is ridiculous, I think it just weighed on them a lot.
Q: Do you think your players found a second gear when they hit the postseason?
A: It was very strange. When we got to the playoffs, everybody was sort of like, ‘Ok, we’re good now.’ It was almost as if the regular season was a waste of time for the guys. That wasn’t what they were there for, which isn’t normal for our group. But I think this year mentally, that’s just kind of the way they were looking at it. It was just, ‘Ok, let’s just get through it and get to the playoffs.’
Q: As a coach do you approach this time of year differently than you did last month?
A: Right now the biggest thing for us is we’re managing bodies. Instead of working them through and getting things clicking, we’re approaching it as, ‘Ok, let’s manage our bodies and let’s focus on the mental side. Let’s focus on what we do to make sure we’re on point as far as where we’re going.’ Yesterday we did 25 minutes of training and about 20 minutes of tactical understanding of the game, and that was it.
Q: Between soccer, lacrosse, tennis, track and baseball, Oakton seems to be having another breakout spring season. How much do coaches at the school invest in other teams?
A: We try to get out to see each other’s games as much as possible, which is a huge thing because we’re a community, not just a school. It’s a very tight bond between the coaches in the spring, as well as all of them. We have great support from the football coaches and the basketball coaches. We’re always checking up on each other. I said to Justin [Janis], ‘Are we going to make another run together this year?’
Q: What are your expectations the rest of the way?
A: If we play the way we’re capable of and have for the last couple weeks, I think we’ll get back to states. But who knows? Part of this is anything can happen. If someone’s playing for their career — which a lot of these kids are since it’s their last opportunity — you just never know.