Josiah McCaskill joined the Covenant boys soccer team this fall after playing three years at Grace Christian School in Staunton.
The junior striker has made an instant impact, leading the Eagles to a 12-1-2 regular season mark and the No. 1 ranking in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state poll.
McCaskill leads the team in scoring as Covenant looks for its first state soccer title since 2013. His prowess on the pitch makes McCaskill an easy recipient for Schewels Athlete of the Week.
“My role on the team is to initiate the attempt to win the ball back, as well as scoring,” McCaskill said. “I have really enjoyed my time at Covenant so far and I am excited to see what our team can do in the coming weeks.”
Adjusting to different surroundings is nothing new for McCaskill. When he was 6, his family moved to Thailand to pursue mission work.
“They had formerly lived in Portugal and once my father got a job offer from an international school in Bangkok, they decided it was the right fit for us,” McCaskill said.
McCaskill’s family spent six years in Thailand before moving back to the United States when he was in middle school. McCaskill said he learned many things during his time overseas and developed an increased passion for soccer.
“In Thailand, everyone played soccer, so when I moved there it was just natural that I picked up the sport,” he said. “When I was young, I played baseball, basketball and soccer, but moving to Thailand reinforced my love for soccer and the other sports faded away.”
He has fond memories of Thailand, including playing street soccer with his friends.
“We would find bricks and place them on the street [and use them as] goalposts and play for hours,” McCaskill said. “I also enjoyed going to the beach in Thailand because the water was always so warm.”
McCaskill and his family moved back to the United States in 2014 and have spent the past four years in Virginia. He’s played year-round soccer since he was 12 and has played travel ball for Shenandoah Valley United as well as for District ODP.
“Playing year-round has helped me get to know different coaching styles and ways of playing the game,” McCaskill said. “It’s also helped me [adapt] to play in [extreme] hot or cold conditions.”
One of his favorite players is Juventus striker and Portugal national team superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
“His style of play and skill always amazed me,” McCaskill said
A student of the game, McCaskill is always looking for ways to improve.
“One thing that I’ve tried to add to my game this season is using my left foot more,” he said. “At this point, I’m just not as comfortable using it as my right. The most underrated part of my game is probably my physicality. In games, I can get a little aggressive to win the ball back.”
That nose for the ball has made him a force in the final third for the Eagles. In 15 games, he has scored 25 goals and added five assists and is the top scorer among Division II teams in the state.
“I have had a very successful season, but my main goal is to help the team win,” McCaskill said. “My success wouldn’t be possible without having a strong, talented team that works very hard, so a big thanks goes to them.”
Covenant coach Bryan Verbrugge is constantly amazed by McCaskill’s work ethic on the pitch.
“Josiah brings an energy and determination to score goals,” Verbrugge said. “He has the drive that all pure goal-scorers have. When combined with an accurate and quick shot, he is hard to stop.”
After losing a strong senior class last season, Verbrugge said he was looking for someone to step up and assume that scoring role.
“I knew we would need some creativity and explosion in the attacking third and Josiah has filled that need,” Verbrugge said. “The coaching staff knew that Josiah was a talented player, but we wondered how he would fare in the competitive VIC. He has demonstrated again and again that he can contribute at a high level in our conference.”
An example of his quality and skill is his work from the penalty spot. McCaskill scored a pair of goals from the spot against North Cross earlier this month to knock off the No. 2-ranked team in the state.
“The most important things for me when taking penalties is to stay calm,” he said. “I usually decide what side I’m shooting to before the game even starts. I do this, so I don’t have to hesitate when the moment comes. I try to focus on keeping the ball low. The worst thing you can do is send the ball over the crossbar.”
Jeff Gaffney, the University of Virginia men’s soccer team’s all-time leading goal scorer, led a training session with Covenant’s strikers earlier this season and Verbrugge said he was impressed with Josiah’s technique and work ethic.
McCaskill, whose father played college soccer at Longwood, embraces the challenge of being a marked man on the pitch.
“Being the person that other people say they must shut down can be good, because it opens up space for some of our other players to be creative,” he said.
Verbrugge said McCaskill has embraced the team concept at Covenant.
“I think the fundamental reason for our success involved the fact that everyone had contributed and played their role,” Verbrugge said. “We don’t have one superstar that can carry us. Our guys work together, filling their roles and contributing to the overall team offensive and defensive strategy.”
Covenant will open VIC tournament play this week and is hoping for a long playoff run.
“Our season has gone really well,” McCaskill said. “A perfect season for us would be to win the VIC tournament and states. As a team though, we try to take it one game at a time and focus on the process.”