Tag Archives: Features

Luis Vilca plays every game with a bullet lodged two inches from his spine

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On the Falls Church soccer field, diving is a sin. The act of feigning injury to draw a foul — or, worse, to catch a breather — is not tolerated at Paul Weber Stadium, not after what happened last summer. Even if someone truly endures a blow, teammates always bring each other to their feet with variations of the same phrase.

“Hey, Raymond got shot,” they implore. “Get up.”

Raymond is one of many nicknames for Luis Ronaldo Vilca, who also goes by “Shooter,” and not because he likes to shoot (he doesn’t). While on vacation to visit family in Lima, Peru last July, Vilca survived a gunshot wound to the stomach, not to mention the ensuing 16-hour wait in the hospital before undergoing surgery. The senior has since overcome incidental nerve damage in his leg and earned his way back into the Falls Church starting lineup, reprising his role as the tenacious defensive midfielder on a talented Jaguars squad bent on forging another playoff run next month.

“The team didn’t just gain another player,” Falls Church assistant coach Cristian Alvarado said. “They gained a brother back.” Continue reading Luis Vilca plays every game with a bullet lodged two inches from his spine

His family fled the Taliban. Now he’s one of Virginia’s most feared wrestlers.

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There is an Arabic expression that transcends life’s daily trials, a phrase Zaki Mohsin invokes every day. Its meaning is “God willing,” but its power lies in something more self-reliant — that a little resilience today will yield greater outcomes tomorrow.

Inshallah.

Mohsin muttered it upon waking each morning at 3:30 to pray in his family’s 15-person citrus home on the western edge of Kabul. He whispered it before earning accolades across Asia as a rising star in the sport of judo. And he repeated it as his family spent a frantic two weeks uprooting their lives and fleeing Afghanistan, putting Mohsin’s dream of an Olympic gold medal on hold. Continue reading His family fled the Taliban. Now he’s one of Virginia’s most feared wrestlers.

How an accomplished college hoops coach landed at a tiny private school in rural Virginia

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THE PLAINS, Va. — Butterflies surge through the old coach’s 6-foot-5 frame as he ducks into Activities Bus No. 2, a white, 14-passenger GMC van idling at the top of a steep and winding road. His teenage players file in giggling, their heads buried in their phones, their minds too preoccupied to dwell on the game three hours away.

At last, Joe Harrington wraps his right hand around the gear shift and his left around the steering wheel, the red-and-gold marker of an ACC championship reflecting from his ring finger onto the windshield. At Maryland he used to board a charter bus that cruised to the airport with a police escort in tow. At Wakefield School, Harrington drives the bus.

A former Boston Celtics draft pick after his playing days with the Terrapins, Harrington crisscrossed the country as a head coach at four Division I schools and as an assistant for the Toronto Raptors. He mentored the likes of Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chauncey Billups. He chased rebounds as an 11-year-old Stephen Curry — the son of former Raptor Dell Curry — heaved three-pointers before games at Air Canada Centre.

This season Harrington, 71, is immersed in the unfamiliar realm of high school basketball. At 13-2, his Wakefield Fighting Owls have matched the best start in school history. And their sophomore-laden roster is doing it on a remote, 63-acre campus 60 miles west of where Harrington’s career took flight as the right-hand man for Lefty Driesell, the legendary former Maryland coach.

“We actually don’t know how he came here,” Wakefield senior forward Colby Weeks said. “That’s somewhat of a mystery to us.” Continue reading How an accomplished college hoops coach landed at a tiny private school in rural Virginia

Olympic champ Kyle Snyder returns to high school gym to wrestle for Ohio State

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Kyle Snyder stood in the corner of Good Counsel High’s gym Sunday afternoon and waited to reacquaint himself with the launchpad of his sparkling wrestling career. The navy-and-gold center mat looked exactly the same as he had left it in 2013, but everything that has happened since — a world championship, an NCAA title, an Olympic gold medal — rendered this an entirely different spectacle altogether.

For starters, Snyder was no longer sporting his high school’s colors. The burly 21-year-old donned a black Ohio State warmup pullover as he prepared for a home dual meet roughly 405 miles off campus. The unusual showdown — held just 15 miles from College Park — was the result of a recruiting pitch from Ohio State Coach Tom Ryan, who promised Snyder a home meet at his old high school at some point before he graduated.

Snyder, a junior, paced the warmup mat, but he wasn’t getting loose for his upcoming heavyweight bout just yet. Instead, he was signing hats and T-shirts for giddy children as parents leaned back to take pictures. A sold-out crowd of 1,200 spectators filled the bleachers on either side.

“It’s nuts,” Snyder mumbled as he scrawled his name across another hat’s bill. Continue reading Olympic champ Kyle Snyder returns to high school gym to wrestle for Ohio State

Varsity field hockey has arrived in Loudoun County, but there’s still work to be done

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The novelty of the scene at Briar Woods was evident only in the players’ faces.

On one side of the field, 25 members of the Heritage field hockey team decked in candy red uniforms giggled through their warm-up shooting routine. On the other, two of Stone Bridge’s 21 white-and-navy clad stick wielders stopped to laugh at a whiff that sent dirt flying over a stationary ball.

Just about anywhere else in the Washington area, this is a totally normal Tuesday evening in September. In Loudoun County, this is unprecedented. Continue reading Varsity field hockey has arrived in Loudoun County, but there’s still work to be done

For Falls Church boys’ soccer, a diverse roster determined to make history

Falls Church soccer players panted in Tuesday afternoon’s 85-degree heat, hustling alongside the track while four of their teammates camped near the goal to conduct shooting drills during practice. One of those teammates, freshman forward Ahmed Elmataoui, jogged over to the water cooler, rinsed his mouth and spit every last drop onto the turf.

This week marks the most important stretch of these boys’ high school soccer careers. It also marks the start of Ramadan.

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As the upstart Jaguars prepare for Friday’s 5A state semifinal, their Muslim quartet must also respect a sacred month of fasting that began Sunday night. A typical day for them this week mirrors junior midfielder Mahmoud El-Khatib’s routine: Fast before and during school, keep fasting at practice, take a nap, wake up at 8:30 p.m. to eat and drink about a gallon of water, sleep, wake up at 3:30 a.m. to drink some more, go back to sleep, wake up at 6:30, repeat.

No Falls Church soccer team has ever qualified for states, and no Falls Church team of any kind has ever won a state championship. As such, El-Khatib and company are opting for a temporary exemption from their religious obligations this weekend. The Jaguars face 5A South champ Mills Godwin at 4 p.m. at Lake Braddock.

“I wanted to make sure God knew that I have to make an exception on Friday, and if we win, then Saturday as well,” El-Khatib said.

Continue reading For Falls Church boys’ soccer, a diverse roster determined to make history

From Sierra Leone to the mat, this trio of George Mason wrestlers is tied together

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One is an Olympic hopeful. The other two are the first members of their families to attend college. All three trace their roots to a war-torn country across the Atlantic Ocean, and by varying routes, they all found their way to the same college wrestling team.

Ibrahim Bunduka and Konbeh Koroma were 7 years old when they arrived in Alexandria after fleeing Freetown, their families desperate to escape a civil war that claimed at least 50,000 lives in Sierra Leone. Sahid Kargbo remained in Alexandria all along; his parents and older brother left Freetown in 1991, just before the war spread.

The three George Mason University students share a unique heritage, but their true common ground is on a wrestling mat.

Kargbo opted to redshirt this winter in an effort to qualify for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Koroma will wrap up his college career this weekend at the Eastern Wrestling League championships in Lock Haven, Pa., where Bunduka, a redshirt sophomore, will look to cap a strong season as the Patriots’ lead-off wrestler at 125 pounds.

With their final meet together looming, the three brothers in singlets find themselves on the precipice of new phases in their lives — a long leap from where they began. Continue reading From Sierra Leone to the mat, this trio of George Mason wrestlers is tied together