With the wind absolutely whipping Friday night in Crozet, something weird was bound to be the difference maker in Western Albemarle and Monticello’s first clash of potentially three or four matchups this year.
It turned out to be a misplayed ball with about 15 minutes left in the first half.
“One of the defenders passed it back and the goalie hit it right into my chest so I hit it forward and saw an opening in the goal,” said Western’s Brooke Whittier.
Whittier finished and Western took a 1-0 lead over the Mustangs that stood up for a critical home victory. The win capped a busy week for the Warriors who fell 2-0 to Albemarle, beat Powhatan 1-0 and then edged the Mustangs. With both teams competing in Class 3 and battling for an automatic playoff berth from the Jefferson District, the win over Monticello is the most critical piece of the puzzle. The second regular season clash looms Thursday, a quirk of the first game being shifted due to weather.
“We’re going to play them probably (at least) two other times so it was good to start it off really well,” Whittier said.
Whittier’s emergence as a scoring threat has been critical for the Warriors this season as they had to replace a lot of scoring punch from last year’s state title run including Abby Zimmerman. Whittier has been scoring regularly enough that teams can’t afford to lock in on Katrine Berg.
“It’s really exciting to see her working in and fitting in with the team,” said Western senior Ellie Plantz. “She seems to read every play we’re sending and works really well with others, so it’s exciting for her and I’m really excited too.”
Whittier isn’t the only young player who has worked their way into the lineup, and that’s helping the Western defense maintain its reputation as one of the area’s stingiest. Freshmen like Cat Domecq and Kayleigh Long as well as sophomores like Whittier and Kelly Rogers have found roles on the revamped Warriors, blending in with a series of seasoned seniors like Plantz, Julia Berg, Cordellia O’Connell and Molly Gobble.
“We’re finally starting to click as a team and it’s exciting to see new players step up,” Plantz said. “We can finally trust each other, play well together and hold that shape in the back which is really important.”
Monticello took a little while to solve the intense wind issue in the first half, allowing Western a handful of early chances before halftime with Whittier eventually cashing in. Ellie Cox and Katrine Berg created a lot of those opportunities with their quickness and speed putting some serious pressure on the Mustangs. But after Whittier’s goal, Monticello got pretty locked in, which kept them in striking distance the rest of the way and create a couple of chances.
“I think in the first 20 minutes they really just jumped on us and luckily we built back into the game,” said Monticello coach Thomas Warren. “Unfortunately we just couldn’t get the shot to go in the back of the net.”
With both teams largely playing mistake-free soccer, the first half error ended up being the difference-maker,giving Western an early leg up in what could be an expansive, close series this year. The Mustangs had been on a roll with several wins in a row, including a victory over Charlottesville earlier this week, coming into this one.
“The wind was a huge factor, I’ve never been on the sideline and had a huge trash can blow over behind me and we were going straight into it so it took us a little while to adjust,” Warren said.
Monticello takes on a tough schedule next week, opening with Albemarle Monday night before the rematch with Western Thursday. Western travels to Louisa County Monday before squaring off with the Mustangs Thursday.