It’s tough to beat a team twice, and that notion was certainly on display in the Group 3A girls soccer championship with Western Albemarle and Blacksburg. The opportunities were even, possession was even and the flow of the game was even. But at the end of the day, it was a cleverly placed chip shot by Jane Everett that could not be contested that was the difference, giving Blacksburg a 1-0 lead that the Bruins clung to tightly to walk away as state champions for the second straight year.
“I’m just very proud of this team because they rose to the occasion and played hard against a very good team, a very good program,” said Western coach Jake Desch. “We played good soccer we just couldn’t finish. I hope the girls had fun, because they played well, it was a great atmosphere, a great game.”
Unbeaten coming into the contest, Blacksburg’s offense was in full control out of the gate. And after a couple of shots just missed, Everett made her mark just eight minutes into the game. With no where to go at the top of the box as Western had a pair of defenders blocking her, the senior turned and chipped up a long, lazy shot that sailed way over Western keeper Erin Farina’s reach and just slipped by the left post into the back of the net.
“We had the exact same thing happen last year in this game,” said Blacksburg coach Travis Eschenmann. “We got the early goal and an opportunity to just settle in. Honestly it was such a competitive game and I thought they really outplayed us at times, but we hung in there and that’s what champions do and so I’m proud of our girls doing that on such a hot day.”
From there, it was a bit of a war of attrition with both teams struggling to get shots. The Warriors had a handful of corners in the first half and put a pair of shots on goal, but weren’t able to generate too much against the Bruins defense. It was much of the same in the second half. The Warriors saw their best opportunity come with just 11 minutes to play, but keeper Chris Martin made the save to end the threat.
“Playing a team twice, we looked at a lot of film and were able to identify some strengths and weaknesses, and I thought we took advantage of that to create some opportunities but we just couldn’t finish them,” Desch said. “Our strategy coming in was to (run counters) and with our speed up top we thought we could get around them, create some pressure and we did. We got some corners, got some shots and it just didn’t quite work out in our favor.”
The last ten minutes saw Western press to get something going but the Blacksburg defense held firm to close out the game and complete the perfect season. It was a bittersweet end for the Warriors as while they made an unexpected run to the final with such a young team, they will have to regroup without four seniors — Sarah Honosky, Langlee King, Lillian Meggs on a vaunted defense (one which helped Farina post 16 shutouts on the year) and then Sarah Watkins at forward.
“Our four seniors should be so proud of what they’ve done and what they’ve helped this program do,” Desch said. “They leave us having made the state tournament for the first time since 2002. We needed role models and leaders for this program, they gave us that. They should be very proud.”
Of course with so much coming back, and young team that’s poised to bring back arguably its most talentd player in Anna Sumpter who missed the season because a knee injury, the Warriors broke their huddle awfully excited about what rests ahead for this program.
“The girls talked about it afterwards, they aren’t nervous to play in these type of games any more,” Desch said. “I hope they stay a little nervous, but yes, the future is very bright right now.”