When Zach Wagner committed to the Naval Academy he didn’t realize joining his brother on the soccer team there would mean competing against him as much as he has since training started six weeks ago.
“We’ve had every variation of the team in intra-squad games but we’ve been on different teams every single game,” Zach Wagner said in a phone interview. “I don’t know if that’s on purpose or not but we’ve been playing against each other every single game.”
With their conference season in the Patriot League postponed because of Covid-19, the Midshipmen have had an extended period of training since opening camp in August. They open a fall competition schedule tonight with a visit to the University of Virginia, runner ups in the College Cup last December.
Zach’s older brother JD, a sophomore defender, isn’t the only former teammate he’s rejoined since joining the Navy program. Jason Aoyama, of Narberth, Pa., was a teammate of Zach’s in the Union Academy and during their Covid-shortened senior season with FC Delco. Freshman forward Baba Kallie, of Coatesville, also spent some time with the Union Academy and attended school at YSC Academy before graduating from Hill School. Aoyama also attended YSC Academy but graduated from Harriton High School.
“When I first got here I had two people I already knew super well,” Zach Wagner said of Jason and Baba. “So it wasn’t that I was being thrown in with a bunch of people I didn’t know.”
A year after seeing JD leave their Medford Lakes, N.J. home to start college, Zach found himself leaving home under different circumstances amid a global pandemic, reporting to the summer training program known as Plebe Summer in July. After having his final season at FC Delco end abruptly in March and his classes at Shawnee High School moved online, he’d had seven more weeks away from soccer in the rigorous military training program designed to turn civilians into midshipmen.
Even knowing a little about what to expect from JD, there’s a reason the program has such a reputation.
“It was really hard, but it was worth it,” Zach said.
Training began for the soccer team in August with many of the protocols that have been in place for select programs across the country that have been lucky enough to train and have some form of competition this fall.
“We’ve been treating this like a real season, practicing every day within NCAA rules, of course,” JD said. “We could not be more excited to finally have a real game to play.”
Navy was initially planning to host Syracuse, but the match was postponed earlier this week because of a positive coronavirus within the Orange camp. Instead, they’ll travel to Charlottesville to play another ACC opponent in the Cavaliers at 7 p.m. tonight.
“It’s a chance to take down the team that was in the national championship last season,” JD said.
It’s also a chance for JD and Zach to see some old friends. Their former YSC Academy classmates Jules Anderson and Leo Afonso are both in their first year at Virginia.
After playing as a left back in his freshman year, JD has moved to his more natural right back position this season on a back line that will be tough for Zach to crack. In addition to JD, the first choice defense includes reigning Patriot League Defender of the Year Matt Nocita and second-team all conference center back Tyler Collins along with senior outside back Toni Adewole, a graduate of Hill School in Pottstown.
“I’ll definitely have a lot to learn from them,” said Zach, of Nocita and Collins.
While for now they may still be playing against each other more in training than next to each other on the back line in games, JD and Zach are both thrilled to be on the same team. Prior to joining the Union Academy, they both also played for Real Jersey FC and grew up playing with Brenden Aaronson and Paxten Aaronson on local teams.
For their parents, April and Drew Wagner, who coaches the girls soccer team at Shawnee, having their sons on the same team again also means getting to see them on one trip.
“I think my parents may be loving it even more,” JD said. “But just having Zach here is great, having that family connection and being able to look to each other for support.”