Westminster Boys Soccer: A Team Defined By Camaraderie & Defense
Tradition. Legacy. Champions. Camaraderie. Defense.
All these words define the Westminster program. Westminster has had three 20-win seasons in the past seven years. The Wildcats have reached the semifinals in three of the last five seasons, excluding 2020 (COVID-19 year). The Wildcats have won 14 state championships and are seeking to win their 15th when the playoffs begin Friday. The Wildcats enter the postseason on a three-game winning streak, and two of the three games have been clean sheets against Stephenson and Druid Hills. Westminster last won a championship in 2019.
The Wildcats have yet to suffer an in-state loss this season and have proven they are battle tested after playing some of the top programs in the country, including Grissom (AL), Fort Payne (AL), and McCallie (TN). So what makes this team so good this year? It starts on the defensive end, where in the 18 games played, 10 of them have been clean sheets. Head Coach Scott Synder embodies a basketball coach from the 1990s, where good defense was expected and a significant component of a team’s identity.
“I am a defensive coach. I don’t know if it translates to all sports, but in soccer, you have creative people who are trying to figure out how to move the ball around. I’m the guy that wants to figure out how to take the air out of the ball and slow the game down. The old four corners in basketball,” said coach Scot Synder. “I love destroying other teams’ plans. If you want to play for me, then you have to defend. I don’t care what position you are. You are going to defend, or I am not going to play you. I’ve been able to make that happen, but not always willingly. A lot of players want to do the fun stuff. I think that has helped culturally. It is a big part of us.”
Adaptability has also defined Westminster this year. Think about being a starter at a specific position for years, then adjusting your game and learning a new position. Certainly, there will be some challenges and some things you must work through to succeed, and sometimes it may not work out. Noah Kuney had to embrace the role this year for the Wildcats, and he has adjusted well to being a key player this season for Westminster in their hopes of a title.
“Noah Kuney has been a three-year starter but was always on the defense, and now he is playing up top for us. He is going to play at Washington University at St. Louis,” said Synder. “Putting him up top was kind of an accident that has turned out to be a really good answer.”
High school soccer is different nowadays. Club teams are at the forefront of critical decisions high school players have to make about their future. Do I forgo playing high school soccer this season and continue playing club ball in the spring? Or do I stop playing club soccer and continue playing with my high school team? It’s a tough decision for players because their future is at stake, and they must decide what makes the most sense. Lucas Searl made that sacrifice this season and chose to stay with his high school team, which has paid dividends for Westminster.
“Lucas Searl, who came out to play this year, told his club team he would rather play high school and not play club, which is a win for high school sports. High school sports are under assault by many people who say, ” Hey, I’ll make you pro if you do this,” said Synder. “I have a senior-led backline with two center backs, Alex Samity and Chase Jones, who has done a great job for me this year. Preston Hallford is a center defensive mid. He’s been in the program forever but never bubbled up; he was always good but not really pushing. I decided to put him in and stick with him. I would have to put him down as the MVP right now. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t do anything amazing but does all the little stuff right.”
Westminster went undefeated in region play with an 8-0 record and will look to make some noise this postseason. Their camaraderie and cohesion bound their team. No one player is above the team, and everyone sacrifices to ensure the team’s success. Another one of the reasons year in and year out is that the Wildcats are contending for state championships.
“This team is probably one of the best teams I’ve ever had, and I am not talking about soccer but the team culture and how much they enjoy being with each other,” said Synder. Winning gets me three more days with them. I am having a great time and don’t want it to end.
The Wildcats will look to keep their season going with a victory Friday Night at home against Stockbridge and make a run. Don’t be surprised to see Westminster in the state title game battling for another title.