The last time a freshman opened the season as the keeper for the George Mason High School varsity soccer team was in 2001, when Alex Fatovic took his place in the box, beginning a storied career as a Mustang, capped off by a state championship in 2004.
So, when current freshman Tyler Back was named the starter prior to last Thursday’s contest against Freedom-South Riding High School, expectations were high for the young player, and he certainly did not disappoint.
Back anchored a stellar defensive effort on the part of Mason, shutting out the Eagles en route to a 2-0 season opening victory. In the 11th minute, a Freedom corner tested the young keeper, but he took control and leaped into the box to make the save.
“Tyler was very solid for us today,” said Mustang coach Arthur Iwanicki. “That first corner he caught was definitely a varsity save.”
However, when trumpeting the effort made by the defense in blanking the Eagles, Iwanicki made sure to mention the rest of his defenders, most notably seniors Matt Gresko and Wes Frank. The two quelled any potential breakaway Freedom could get early in the contest.
For most of the first half, the two squads traded possessions and, save a few rocket shots from outside the box, Mason was unable to get many quality looks on goal. However, in the 32nd minute, senior Antonio Randrianasolo fired a shot into the left side of the goal, slipping off the hands of the keeper before finally settling just inside the line to make it 1-0 in favor of the hosts.
With the score remaining the same entering the break, the Mustangs began the latter 40 minutes dominating ball possession, using their first touch to evade any oncoming Eagle forwards.
Following another bullet free-kick by sophomore Alex Casteuble, which just cleared the top of the goal, Back recorded yet another save.
Again on the attack, Mason forward Andrew Arias deftly redirected a deflected ball with his left foot into the upper right of the net in the 73rd minute.
Last year’s season ended much earlier than was anticipated, with a home loss in the Region B semifinals to eventual state runner-up Nelson County. Entering the off-season, the determination of the returning players was constantly seen, as they organized pick-up games in the gym in between running and lifting workouts.
If the first game is any indication, furthermore, Mason is on the right path to surpassing last season’s success, in which they went undefeated in Bull Run District.
“We had a good overall performance [today] against a larger school,” said Iwanicki. “We didn’t attack as well as we could, but we won the 50-50 balls. Elio [Randrianasolo] was very strong in the middle for us tonight.”
Junior Anthony Andrianrison, the returning District Player of the Year, echoed his coach’s comments, saying that Mason “has been working on possessing the ball in practice, and the finishing touch should come along through the season.”
This past Monday, the Mustangs ventured down Route Seven to take on J.E.B. Stuart in what has historically been a scrappy and hard-fought game between the cross-town rivals. The two teams battled evenly for the entire first half, entering the break with the score knotted at zero.
An early letdown in the second half saw Mason concede two goals to the Raiders and, despite a Casteuble penalty kick, the Mustangs were unable to claw back, falling 2-1. Iwanicki was nonetheless complimentary of his squad for an impressive effort, especially sophomore Nick Smirniotopoulos, Back, Frank and Gresko.
George Mason will have one last tune-up before the district schedule begins on April 11 at Manassas Park, when the Mustangs play host to the AA state runner-up Potomac Falls and Georgetown recruit Uche Onyerdor, the defending Gatorade State Player of the Year