National Cathedral seniors Niaa Jenkins-Johnston and Jordan Gasho have seen it all during their tenure on the Eagles’ varsity soccer team. They experienced the highest of highs while winning the D.C. State Athletic Association title as freshmen and the lowest of lows while going through a rebuilding year as sophomores.
“This senior class, when they were freshmen was when we won the last D.C. state tournament,” said Eagles coach Danielle Malagari. “When you lose 20 people over two graduating classes, you are going to have a rebuilding year. It was frustrating. But three years ago when we started with this group, I had all starters from the JV team. We are getting better every year. It certainly added character, and they had to understand the ups and downs.”
Last fall, the good times returned for the duo as they led the Eagles through the Independent School League tournament to capture the league crown.
“Everyone is very motivated coming off of last season,” said Gasho. “Our sophomore season was a little rocky, but last year really pumped us up. Winning the tournament gave us a lot of confidence,”
Malagari plans to rely on her pair of four-year varsity starters to try to guide the team back to a triple crown season — ISL regular season, ISL tournament and DCSAA championship — for the first time since 2013.
“They have seen the ups and downs of the program,” Malagari said. “This senior class is really strong, and I have been working with them since seventh grade.”
Malagari added that Jenkins-Johnston is “so unassuming because of her size, but she can hold the ball and get behind the backlines. She’s a workhorse.” Meanwhile, Gasho “was a captain her junior year and a starter as a freshman. She brings a different type of leadership through her hard work,” the coach said.
While the team has lost five seniors from its ISL tournament-winning lineup — mainly on the back line — it’s anchored on the defensive end by second-year starter junior goalie Lilly Keller.
“It gives us a lot of freedom to take on players because we know she will be there for us,” said Jenkins-Johnston.
Cathedral will get a boost from junior forward Amanda De Castro, who is returning from a nagging back issue. In a scrimmage against Bethesda-Chevy Chase, De Castro stood out on the offensive end and helped create several scoring chances.
“If she stays healthy, she will be huge for us,” Malagari said. “She hasn’t had the chance to shine, and if she stays healthy, she will.”
The Eagles hope their mix of returning talent and new players proves to be a winning formula when they open the season against Maret at Jelleff Field on Thursday at 4 p.m.