The Blue Jays boys’ soccer program tied its previous record with seven wins in the season for the first time in more than a decade.
Junction City stared the season strong with a close 2-1 road win over Salina Central, starting them off with 1-0 on the season.
“Getting a win to start the year off builds a lot of confidence in the team,” said coach Allan McFarland, in his fifth year as head coach. “It was an away game and the first game of the year. Having a close one showed the guys, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter who we play. We keep it close, and we can compete and win a lot of these games this year,’ which we did.”
It was the first of seven wins, as Junction City finished 7-9 in the season. Seven wins for the boys’ soccer program made history, as it tied for the most wins in a season since 2010. Had a couple close losses ended differently, the team could have achieved an even better record. These included a close 2-1 loss at Highland Park in the second game, which McFarland said they did not play well, and a 2-1 loss to Emporia in a final regular-season game, in which game came down to the last seven seconds.
The Blue Jays were led by a strong senior class, including three big impact seniors – Faybien Michael, Gabe Lamb and Gage Allen.
Michael had four goals and seven assists on the season, Lamb had two goals and five assists and Allen finished fifth in school history in career shutouts.
McFarland said it brings him joy seeing the senior class improve since their freshman year, leading them to impact history.
“The senior class in general, a lot of them had been here since their freshman year,” McFarland said. “They had been competing and working their buts off for the program for so long. I felt really good for them to be able to see the results that we had been working toward. There is a lot of players who had some big years on the numbers. Overall, every single senior player, they contributed extremely to the success that we had this year.”
McFarland said he saw confidence grow in his team as the year went on, and they got to a 2-2 record after starting the season with a win.
“At the beginning of the year, if I would have told the team … ‘We are going to get seven wins’, I think they would have been a little bit surprised,” McFarland said. “But after our first few games, I think that is what they expected to have one of the best seasons in school history – and we ended up doing that.”
The Blue Jays showed their skill this season, as they went on a three-game winning streak to achieve an above-even record (7-6). After reaching 7-6, they lost the remaining two games of the regular season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Derby.
McFarland said the team chemistry, along with the growing confidence, allowed his team to get to that kind of record.
“The first 15 games, we played well together in games close,” he said. “We won the games we were supposed to win and competed in some that maybe in the past we were not supposed to, so we just performed really well as a team together.”
McFarland also saw his players get more attention from the rest of the high school in the hallways and in the classroom.
“A lot of times when you interact with other students and teachers, they ask you about the game the night before and they kind of knew the outcome,” McFarland said. “It was a loss or a bad loss or something like that. You come the next day and students are starting to hear, ‘Oh, you won, (or) hey you competed.’ It is just a different type of feeling this year. Historically, our program struggled. Now I think people are noticing us a little bit more and wondering more of how we did and having more interest in the program.”
McFarland said he was happy to see the program get back to seven wins under his guidance in his fifth year as head coach and that it meant everything to see his players hard work finally be rewarded.
“You can see from the results – especially these juniors and seniors – we see some of the heartbreaking ties and losses,” McFarland said. “Just have not been on the winning end, and then you start to see them glow after games. When they finally get the results they deserve, it just makes me happy, and I am glad that these seniors and a lot of these guys on the team could experience this. We have been working together hard on (building the program). We had the right pieces. People understood how my style of play was, and on my end, I am realizing what our strengths are and listening to the players and they listen to me. We worked together, and it worked out really well this year. We are going to be happy being one of the best teams in our history.”
With a strong junior class returning – including Zane Khoury who led team in goals (nine) with six assists and John Noveroske who tallied seven goals and seven assists – McFarland does not label next year as a rebuilding year.
“I think we are going to be able to come back locked and loaded,” McFarland said. “We bring back our starting goalkeeper, our top two goal scorers and assists. We bring in three or four freshman that play significant minutes. Yes, you do lose a good amount. Once again, there is already guys in the program right now that can refill those roles. There is some freshman that will come up and help compete and junior varsity guys that will be ready to step up to the plate. I am trying to make this (success) more normal, and I think the guys are doing a good job of doing that. There is no rebuilding, we are picking up right where we left off.”