A rambunctious GDS fan section roared as the men’s varsity soccer team emerged from its huddle and took the field at St. John’s College High School to take on the No. 1–seeded Cadets in a second-round matchup of the D.C. State Athletic Association tournament on Wednesday. GDS fell to St. John’s, 4–0, ending a 2021 season that exceeded the Hoppers’ expectations.
The players had been eager for a second chance to keep their season alive after a 1–0 loss to Maret in the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference final on Nov. 4. The team triumphed 3–1 against Bell Multicultural High School in the first round of the D.C. tournament on Nov. 2.
The Hoppers held St. John’s to a 0–0 score at halftime before allowing four goals in the second half. On the sideline of the unfolding game, a large and unruly crowd of GDS fans loudly cheered, prompting scolding from St. John’s staff members.
Despite the loss, head coach Quinn Killy said he was impressed by his team’s performance against the top team in the city. “We played a team that’s only lost once all year. They’ve got a handful of guys who all play academy or all play club and are gonna go Division I soccer,” Killy said in an interview after the game. “And we held our own.”
Through the first half, GDS contained the Cadets’ attacks until the Hoppers were able to regain possession of the ball and counter with long passes down the field to their strikers. That strategy allowed the Hoppers to dominate the half with multiple scoring opportunities. However, the team was unable to capitalize.
Senior Jeremy Grace, a captain of the team, told the Bit, “I haven’t felt that good about our team until that first half of soccer.” He added, “I wish we could have unlocked that a little earlier.”
At the half, GDS parent Andrew Herman was pleased with the way his son’s team was playing. “They’re very tenacious,” he said in an interview. “They’re playing very defensive-minded, which I think is really important against this team.”
At the start of the second half, St. John’s came out aggressively, seemingly determined to change the trajectory of the game. Less than three minutes into the half, junior Lucas Sullivan got entangled with a St. John’s player in the GDS penalty box, sparking a controversial foul call against Sullivan that changed the game’s momentum.
St. John’s junior Nicholas Laffey, a striker whom Killy said the Hoppers were intent on stopping, took the penalty. GDS senior and goalie Miles Rollins-Waterman guessed Laffey’s placement correctly but did not reach the ball, giving the Cadets their first goal.
Grace said the penalty was a turning point in the game. “First half, I think we were all giving 100 percent and working together,” he said, “but as soon as there was one bad call, we fell apart and we stopped playing as a team.”
Just two minutes later, Laffey struck again, punishing an overaggressive Hopper defense. GDS conceded two more goals in the next 20 minutes.
But the course of the game did not deter the GDS crowd from making its presence felt with almost constant noise—an obnoxious mixture of cheers for GDS and jeers directed at St. John’s fans and referees. Hopper fans far outnumbered those supporting the home team after a half-day of classes at GDS.
Ashley Gingrich, the assistant athletic director of women’s sports at St. John’s, repeatedly reprimanded the GDS fans for their rowdiness, telling them to stop yelling at referees, stepping foot onto the turf and using a megaphone, among other things. (Gingrich did not respond to email or voice message requests for comment prior to the publication of this article.)
Andrew Herman stepped in to defend the fan base, asserting that GDS fans had not used profanities towards the officials and had thus done nothing wrong.
“We have a very raucous, loud group of students, very supportive of the team,” Herman told the Bit. “It’s all in good spirit and good fun and I think the other side, the other team, may not be used to having such vocal support.”
The atmosphere only seemed to grow more contentious as the game wore on. Sophomore Zach Kovner, who energized the GDS crowd and occasionally walked to the St. John’s fans’ bleachers, was confronted during the second half by a St. John’s staff member who threatened to eject Kovner from the stands if he approached the St. John’s fan section again.
When asked later about his interactions with St. John’s fans and staff members, Kovner said, “Some words were exchanged. We’ll keep it quiet for now. I don’t know if too many people would be happy with them.” He added, “It was all in the spirit of winning and helping the team out.”
The game capped off a long journey for the team in its first season since the start of the pandemic. It finished the regular season with a 7–4–3 record, entering the playoffs as the second seed in the MAC and finishing as the league’s runner-up.
Several players, along with Killy, told the Bit that the team made significant strides since the start of the season.
Senior Maxwell Burns said that after a crushing preseason loss to the Landon School, he had wondered, “Can we get a top four seed in the MAC? Can we get a home playoff game? The fact that we won three playoff games is just outstanding.”