Champs run in family

A second wave of Towson players has matched its older brothers by winning a state title. Now the goal is simple - do them one better.

Boys soccer

October 25, 2006|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,Sun Reporter

The Towson boys soccer team was going into the regional playoffs last year with an uneasy feeling that was easy to explain, considering the Generals entered with a nondescript 6-4-1 record and no quality wins.

Midfielder Phil Bickel, a relatively quiet junior at the time, felt the need to speak up.

His words - few but timely - were definitely heard.

"Right before we're ready to take the field for our first regional game, he turned to the team and said, `Guys, I want to be in the state finals,'" Towson coach Randy Dase recalled. "I knew where he was coming from because his brother [Andy] was on our state championship team in 2003. When he made the comment, I knew we were going to go places."

And so went the Generals, storming through the playoffs with four straight shutouts to reach the state championship game, where they matched the 2003 team's effort by getting a draw against heavily favored River Hill to earn a share of the crown.

The 2005 state champion Towson team was largely a case of little brothers proving they can do it, too.

For Bickel, senior back and captain Steven Novotny, junior forward and leading scorer Wils Alpern and sturdy junior midfielder Logan Hall, the crown gave them one more thing they had in common with each of their older brothers: Michael Novotny, Jenner Alpern and Jake and Simon Hall.

"When I saw my brother had a state championship - I was a freshman on junior varsity at the time - I was proud of him, but I definitely wanted one, too," said Steven Novotny, whose brother Michael is now a sophomore playing at UMBC. "So that made me work that much harder when I made it to varsity. Yeah, it definitely fuels me a lot."

This season gives the younger brothers a chance to one-up their older siblings - and a fifth kid brother is new to the mix with junior reserve defender Joshua Mark, whose brother John was on the 2003 squad, making his way on varsity. The Generals are 9-3-1 with the playoffs fast approaching.

So just how much does the family atmosphere play into the program's success (three state title-game appearances in four seasons) in recent years?

Dase believes plenty.

"I always say winning is very contagious and it's sort of like poison ivy in that it spreads quickly. So for their older brothers to have great success is perfect for us," Dase said. "When it comes to the big money game, we'll always say `Hey, do you want to be like your brothers and have that ring?'"

While 2002 brought a state runner-up finish and 2003 and 2005 brought shares of the state title to the program, the 2004 season was special in its own way for the Novotny and Alpern brothers, who got the chance to all play together on varsity. That season helped pave the way for last season's success.

"It was a definite special time for me," said Michael Novotny, who added he would love to see his younger brother follow him to UMBC. "It was just a special situation because as much as the wins and losses are shared by the team, it's just something special to go home and share it with your brother."

What was equally invaluable to Steven Novotny was what he learned from his older brother before they got home.

"He showed me if you work hard at something, if you have a good work ethic every time you go out to practice, you can actually get somewhere," he said.

Along with the winning, Dase has enjoyed the mix and match of personalities that has come with the different brothers - on and off the field.

Jenner Alpern had a workmanlike quality at midfield, while Wils has been the marquee player at forward as the team's leading scorer the past two seasons. Michael Novotny was quick to speak up as a vocal leader, and Steven relies more on his actions as a team captain the past two seasons. Phil and Andy Bickel have a lot of the same qualities as skilled midfielders. And the Hall brothers - Simon, Jake and Logan - range from brash to unsung to quiet. John Mark came into his own as a defender in his senior year and Dase expects the same from Joshua next season.

"It's fun. We have a good time with them and joke with them sometimes: `Hey, your older brother wouldn't do this or that.' But I think the other neat thing is, because of all the brothers coming through, we get to keep the parents and the families with us and that keeps our program strongly supported. The parents do a lot behind the scenes and that's been instrumental in maintaining success," said Dase, who said it's common to see former players attending games, particularly come playoff time.

The Generals have a unique philosophy to gear up for the playoffs. They don't worry about being ranked during the regular season or making the Baltimore County championship game. Dase said the regular season is a time to prepare for postseason success with games treated much like scrimmages.

"I just think there's a lot of good talent and a lot of good roots and that affects everyone on the team. Everybody steps up," said Wils Alpern, who has 18 goals and nine assists this season.

Steven and Michael Novotny made sure to closely examine each other's championship rings: "He says his is the better one, has the better design. But all I have to say is `Hey, I have the most recent one and it has `captain' on the side,'" Steven Novotny said.

When Andy Bickel returned home from Roanoke College for Thanksgiving last year, Phil made sure to have his championship plaque in full view on the family mantel.

"The sibling rivalry thing is huge," Phil Bickel said. "You're always trying to one-up your big brother and we'll try to get another one this year. That'll make it two to one."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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