The Takoma Academy Boys Soccer team made history last Thursday by becoming the first TA team to win the Maryland Independent Schools Athletic League (MISAL) championship title. Takoma Academy, founded in 1904 and originally a part of the Washington Training Institute (now known as Washington Adventist University), has one of the higher enrollments of the 1,472 Adventist secondary schools around the world. It has become known in recent years for its rigorous academic program. Now its sports program is stealing headlines.
Fifty yards from the J.P. Laurence Auditorium at Takoma Academy lies a desolate dustbowl of a field and the remnants of a forgotten track. It is difficult to imagine a soccer team holding effective practices on this field, let alone being successful enough to win competitive matches. But this year, the TA Tigers did just that – they overcame both the harsh practice conditions and the inability to host a single home game when they defeated the Avalon School Knights 2-0 to bring home the Maryland Independent Schools Athletic League (MISAL) men’s soccer title.
The Tigers are led this year by a core of experienced seniors: Daniel Rosette, midfielder, Ever Segovia, defender, and Zelick Stewartson, defender. These students have waited several trophy-less years since their overtime victory at the 2010 Bill Jarvis Invitational tournament at Mount Vernon Academy, Ohio. This year, the team finally gelled under the leadership of the seniors and head coach Onyema Uzuegbu, and they rallied together to win it all.
Early in the season the Tigers went undefeated, winning most of their games by a margin of victory of more than five goals. Much of this scoring power came from star striker Rene Rodriguez (sophomore), who scored more than 30 goals for the Tigers this season. These early victories were exhilarating for the team, but served to make them overconfident and struggle when they finally found themselves playing opponents of equal caliber.
The team’s struggles were never clearer than at this year’s Bill Jarvis Invitational tournament where they lost an opening round match to Highland View Academy of Hagerstown, Maryland. The team was not focused and underestimated their opponent. The Tigers still had hopes of making the championship, however, and duplicating the success of 2010. Despite an otherwise perfect tournament record, the Tigers were kept out of the championship because of their loss, and had to settle for third place.
After returning from Ohio the Tigers were humbled, but this is exactly what the team needed to propel them to the MISAL championship game. The players were reminded that great teams bring their best every game, and never underestimate their opponents.
Playoffs began and the Tigers were hopeful yet realistic about their chances for success. Their behavior in the hallway demonstrated a new level of focus – they barely talked about the games, and remained serious even after they defeated their first two playoff opponents, Spencerville Adventist Academy and King’s Christian Academy by narrow 3-2 and 5-4 margins.
The championship game was set; the Tigers would play the Avalon School Knights. The players knew they would have to be at their best, because their only loss during the regular season had come during an earlier match against the Knights. In this match, late defensive mistakes caused by an overconfident Takoma squad caused them to lose the game. The players relished the opportunity for a rematch.
The rematch would not produce the same result. The pre-game speech by senior and team captain Danny Rosette showed the Tiger’s renewed desire and concentration: “Make them fear our mastery of the game.” The maturation that this one sentence displays is profound. No longer were the players concerned with their own personal statistics or flashy plays. Instead, they were speaking in the academic language that the school has used in its move towards adopting standards-based learning: mastery.
In every part of the field the Tigers demonstrated mastery in the championship game. Seniors Ever Segovia and Zelick “Ricky” Stewartson led the defensive line, assisted by a standout performance from junior Ivan Williams. In midfield, Danny Rosette showed tenacity indicative of the best holding midfielders in the game. And up front, just one minute after entering the game, sophomore Rene Rodriguez blasted the ball past the helpless Avalon goalie to put the Tigers 1-0 up.
The game remained 1-0 for over an hour, but in the seventieth minute junior R.J. Bynum took the ball, swiftly sliced between four Avalon defenders, and released what looked like a perfect chip over the Avalon keeper. The supporting TA fans were left in agony for a second longer as the ball bounced off the crossbar to freshmen striker David Miongo. Fortunately, the diminutive player was alert to his surroundings and slotted home the Tigers' second goal from close range.
In classic Takoma Academy fashion, every player celebrated the freshman’s goal, none more than Bynum, who had created the chance. In addition to the players' celebrations, Takoma Academy was able to boast a robust alumni, parent, teacher, and student fan section that never stopped cheering on the boys to victory.
The MISAL championship trophy is the first for the TA Tigers, and it is indicative of a greater change at Takoma Academy. The Tigers’ run this fall encapsulates Takoma Academy’s own rise to greatness. The school has faced adversity over the years, but the school recognized where it needed improvement and humbled itself to better the lives of the children it serves. The staff and administration have been involved in intensive training over the past four years to make the school an institution where students do not strive for good grades, but like Rosette said, “mastery” in every aspect of their lives.
The school is incredibly proud of the boys' soccer team and everyone who played a role this year, from the team managers, Gabrielle Watson and Briana Boyd, to the starting goalkeeper, Mecca Parker. New Athletic Director Keith Beckett continually promoted the team, sending frequent updates about the team’s success to faculty, students, and parents. Everyone hopes and believes this year’s successful season is a harbinger of more success to come, both for the soccer team and the school as a whole.
Todd Gentilcore is an English teacher and Alban Howe a math teacher at Takoma Academy.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5599