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Undefeated Norview boys soccer, coached by a recent ODU grad, in pursuit of first district title in program history

NORFOLK — Norview High School isn’t exactly known for its football talent. In fact, the Pilots’ Boys program has been a mid-tier team in the Eastern District while they have been at their best in recent years.

This year, however, things have changed dramatically.

Norview, led by 23-year head coach Atherton Koolman, has a 10-0 record after defeating Lake Taylor 6-1 on Wednesday night and sits firmly at No. 7 in the 757Teamz boys soccer Top 15.

This is Koolman’s first year as head coach and he has put them in the driver’s seat for an Eastern District title – something Norview has not won in program history.

“For me, I don’t see this season as a complete turnaround. We’ve been working with the same group of guys – this year we have six seniors – three, four years with these guys. They will tell you that we never stop practicing. In the past, the results have not been entirely to our liking. We have had a lot of injuries and qualifying problems in the past. This year things are more or less aligned.”

Norview head boys soccer coach Atherton Koolman talks with his assistants during halftime of the Wednesday, May 8, 2024, evening game at Lake Taylor.  (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)
Norview boys soccer coach Atherton Koolman, center, talks to his assistants during halftime during Wednesday’s game at Lake Taylor. (Stephen M. Katz/Staff)

Koolman may be a first-year head coach, but despite his young age he does not lack coaching experience.

At age 16, he began helping at the high school level. By the time he was a senior at Norview High, he had already been named head coach of the Azalea Gardens Middle School boys soccer team.

After graduating from Norview in 2019, Koolman began his academic career at Old Dominion University while also serving as an assistant coach for the Norview boys team from his freshman through junior years.

In January, former head coach William Garrett left the program and Koolman was the natural successor. Koolman never doubted whether he would take the job if it were offered to him. He credited his support system at Norview and ODU with helping him juggle his senior year of college while being the head coach at Norview.

Koolman officially graduated from ODU on Saturday with a degree as a physical education teacher.

“I think I’m ready for this,” Koolman said. “I could have done this, I think, when I was a freshman in college. I’ve been ready for this for as long as I can remember. Coaching, I pursue it in every way possible. Hopefully our season now shows that I have prepared for this and am ready for it.”

Norview’s players said they felt Koolman had potential as a head coach as they watched him over the years and that they didn’t have a crazy reaction when he was picked for the role – simply because they expected it.

“He’s not only a coach, but he’s also kind of a friend,” senior Simon Bustillos said. “I respect him and all that. He helped us develop, he’s probably one of the best coaches I’ve played with. … He’s been helping us for the last four years and everything, and we’re finally seeing the results. I wouldn’t want any other coach.”

There hasn’t been a secret formula that Norview suddenly started following this year that has turned into success, Bustillos and fellow senior Keith Deloach said. On the contrary, a ‘change of energy’ within the team finally brought things into alignment for the pilots.

“Everyone we have now, I feel like they’ve all been put in the right place. As we already had every piece we needed in recent years, it was just a matter of placement and which players in which key. So we’ve always been a very diverse team, before me and (Bustillos) even played here. So there has been no major cultural change.”

Norview’s second win of the season came over rival Maury. The 1-0 win was the first over the Commodores in 25 years and a sign for the Pilots that this year could be something special.

“I like to think that made guys say, ‘Oh crap, we’re serious,’ like maybe we can actually do something with this,” Koolman said. “…They bought in and that’s when we started to get some momentum going within our building. At that point there was a little bit of a change where players were like, ‘Oh, wait, let’s go practice, let’s stay a little later.’ And since then there has been a snowball effect.”

Defensively, Norview has conceded at least 20 goals over the last three seasons. This year, the Pilots have allowed just four goals and keeper Joe Fernandez has seven clean sheets to his name. In attack, Norview has scored 42 goals this season, good for an average of 4.2 goals per game. The Pilots are led by Jason Reyes, who has 10 goals.

Koolman and Bustillos said the success is down to better control and possession on offense, which has made life easier for the Pilots on both sides of the ball. Deloach, on the other hand, thinks that the talent level of the teams is the reason for the higher production.

“Player by player, no other team is better than us,” Deloach said. “I can say this with confidence: I don’t think there is any other team with better strikers than us, when we talk about me and Jason, and there is no other team with better midfielders than us. So that’s just how it is.”

Norview's Jarffe Soto fires the ball past Lake Taylor defenders during the Wednesday, May 8, 2024 boys soccer game in Lake Taylor.  (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)
Norview’s Jarffe Soto puts the ball past Lake Taylor’s defenders on Wednesday. (Stephen M. Katz/Staff)

Norview has four games remaining on the schedule, three of which will be against opponents ranked in this week’s 757Teamz Top 15. The Pilots take on No. 9 Woodside on Thursday and are at the back against No. 11 Granby and No. 12 Gloucester. return days next week.

Barring any district losses to Granby before then, a chance to win the first district title in Norview history will be on the line against Granby next week.

“These upcoming games; Woodside is a great team, Granby is a great, great team and Bayside is a sneaky good team. It requires us to be intelligent when we have the ball, when we don’t have the ball, to be brave, to be confident and then really just to back ourselves. Believe that you can do it and that you have done half the work.”

Bustillos said he feels this season has put Norview football “on the map,” but he knows there is still work to be done if he and his teammates want to at least put together a district championship.

“I think our team has done a lot of work,” Deloach said. “Day in, day out, blood, sweat and tears and that district title would only reinforce all the work we’ve done building on all the other past teams at Norview. Like I said, in my opinion there is no other team better than us. So we are ready to take it all home: district, region, states, so that we can strengthen our name.”

Michael Sauls, (757) 803-5774, [email protected]