The drama heightened as every scoreless minute passed for Western Albemarle Saturday afternoon, as time slowly wound down and chance after chance was snuffed out by Brentsville’s defense or an errant pass.
But with a state title on the line, at least one of Western Albemarle’s players senesed that Elizabeth Fabiano might be the difference-maker for the Warriors.
“We knew that Liz was really everywhere today, her touch was on, she was finding the ball at her feet,” said Western Albemarle junior forward Abby Zimmerman.
All that activity paid off when Fabiano struck with 25:10 to play finishing off a goal on a feed from Savanah Wilson for what held up as the gamewinner. That goal helped give the Warriors a 2-0 win over Brentsville in the VHSL Group 3A state championship game, securing the first state title for Western since 2002.
“Savannah was dribbling at the defensive line and she took them wide,” Fabiano said. “I saw Abby make a run one way and I just made a run the other way. The defense just opened up and I took my space from there. It was amazing.”
Fabiano’s goal was the breakthrough moment, but the Warriors didn’t just bunker in after that one, they re-energized, with the sideline getting louder and more engaged after Fabiano’s strike. That wave of energy seemed to create several more chances, including freshman Erin Meier’s opportunity with just under 15 minutes to play, off a setup by Caitlin Harvey. Meier buried the ball in the back of the net to all but finish off the Tigers and start the celebration for Western.
“Erin, a freshman, she had a huge goal in a state championship game and that’s beyond anything she can comprehend right now,” Zimmerman said. “Freshmen can step up at this level, she wasn’t nervous, she knew exactly what to do. We have Jane in the middle, junior, Savannah (Wilson) junior, Emma (Ratcliffe) out wide, senior. Erin, a freshman. We don’t have a weak grade, a weak point.”
The fact that the Warriors were locked in a scoreless battle much of the game actually didn’t bode well for Western as they were playing without the services of All-Region 3A West defender Shannon Moore for the second straight game after she injured her ankle in the state semifinals. That pressed senior Nell Fountain into action, and she performed solidly on the back line, a testament to the depth of Western’s roster.
“We have so much depth and Nell was able to step right in and make a big difference,” said Western’s senior defender Nichole Heon, another all-region pick along the Western backline. “It really helps you relax because Nell on any other team really would be a starting defensive back. I’ve played with her, she’s one of my best friends and we play really well together. So having her there, I was like, we’re fine.”
Heon, Fountain and the rest of that unit managed things well, rarely allowing Brentsville to even threaten. But the Warriors’ offense couldn’t manage a breakthrough in the first half against a Brentsville squad they hadn’t run into before and had shocked defending state champion Blacksburg in the state semis. Some of that was that the Tigers were tough, but it created a decidedly different mood at halftime for Western.
“We were kind of in shock, we never really are 0-0 at half or down, so we were like, wow, we need to come out strong in the first few minutes,” Zimmerman said. “And that’s where we picked up our strength.”
That surge set the stage for Fabiano’s goal, a strike that made sure Western didn’t have a repeat of the 2015 title game where a defensive-minded Blacksburg squad edged the Warriors 1-0. Instead, it was Western’s deep, talented roster celebrating with a trophy, a goal completed after years of just missing out.