Western Albemarle boys soccer’s offense has been pouring in goals lately, and that’s led to the chance to up their celebration game. In the last two matches, the Warriors have unleashed a football-style leaping hip bump number specifically when Joey Paulson is involved in a goal and Lachlan Murphy is on the field.
“Carter (Spilman) always celebrates pretty hard and Lachlan (Murphy) really seems to enjoy it when we get in there and celebrate,” Paulson said. “The past few goals Lach and I have really gone at it on the celebrations.”
Going at it on the celebrations is working for the Warriors. Murphy and Paulson connected on the hip bump on Paulson’s second goal, a tally that helped lift the Warriors to a 4-0 victory over Manassas Park in the Class 3 state semifinals at Salem High Friday. The win puts the Warriors in the state title game where they’ll play for a title for the first time since 2016’s state title run when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
“Our attack has just been finding the back of the net and we’re working for each other,” said Western defender Colby Wren. “On defense we’re finding our marks, communicating, sticking with them and playing our defense and translating that quickly to our offense.”
The Warriors made quick work of Manassas Park, with Carter Spilman getting the scoring going off a Gabe Nafziger cross with a little under 30 minutes to play in the first half. Paulson then snagged his first goal to push the lead to 2-0, this time off an assist by Squid O’Shea.
Western tacked on another in the second half when Spilman found Paulson for a 3-0 lead and the Nafziger broke his defender down from the left wing to score and push the lead to 4-0 with 10:18 to play.
It was exactly the kind of barrage and efficiency that has become a hallmark of how Western has handled playoff opponents, the outgrowth of their turnaround from a meltdown against Charlottesville earlier this season that the Warriors used as a turning point.
“I think we’ve become much more positive in the way we play, our team chemistry has really grown,” Paulson said. “I think that’s just making us want to celebrate more and we’re more hungry for the wins.”
Western managed to handle Manassas Park’s increasingly physical approach during the game, allowing them to stay in control and earn a shot at Northside High in the final.
“They were very physical and at times it was chaotic,” said Western coach Milo Oakland. “But we were able to break through the chaos.”
When they did break through the chaos, there were moments of brilliance. Spilman’s feed to Paulson was perfectly on point and O’Shea’s setup was a slick piece of footwork as well. Nafzinger’s assist to open the scoring came after a run where he leapt over a sliding defender out in front of the box and then found Spilman.
“The assists today were better than the goals and we were able to put enough away,” Oakland said. “We do seem to be in a groove, we’re working for it, it’s a concerted effort to get going early in games. The execution is surprising but not the intent or the effort.”
They’ll test that approach and effort against Northside in the state title match at 3 p.m. Saturday at Roanoke College.