Grit, motivation and fire filled the glory-seeking eyes of the George Mason High School girls soccer team as it entered Friday’s state semi-final match against Radford High School, determined history would not repeat itself.
However, sheer willpower was not enough to overcome the eventual state champion Bobcats, as the Mustangs fell for the second straight year in the semifinals against Radford, 1-0.
Underneath the baking sun, hoping to earn a trip in the state title game and a meeting with Region B and Bull Run District champion Clarke County, Radford and their keeper Desi Simmons dashed any possible hopes of a fifth meeting between the two Bull Run rivals, as her pivotal save of a penalty kick swung the momentum, and the game, in the Bobcats’ favor.
After a hand-ball penalty in the Bobcats’ goal box, Simmons lined up to face Mustang senior Katie Turner on a penalty kick in the 12th minute. After hesitating to see where the ball would go, Simmons dove and knocked away the rocket kick heading for the lower right corner of the goal, sending the Radford fans into a frenzy.
Just seconds later, as the ball was cleared, miscommunication spelled the end for the Mustangs, the Region B runner up.
Less than a minute after the blocked penalty kick, the ball trickled inside the right corner of the Mason goal box, where both Mustang keeper Rebecca Jackson and sweeper Abby Stroup converged on the ball. Both hesitated for a second, allowing Radford senior Krista Patterson to slip between them and launch a shot into an open goal.
“It was just nerves,” Mason Head Coach Jennifer Parsons said. “We came out slow and nervous, and I think that factored into how we played in the first half.”
The speed of the Bobcats forced the Mustangs to play on their heels the entire afternoon, as the forwards found it difficult to get open looks against a vaunted Radford defense that didn’t allow a single goal during its two games last weekend.
Despite an eight corner-kick advantage on the day, the Mustangs managed just one more shot on goal than their opponents.
“We just couldn’t get that goal on corners. It’s awful,” Parsons said. “That comes with experience though. We don’t have many scorers in the box, but we return all our forwards so that’s something to work on for next year.”
Whenever Mason had a chance to score, Simmons made sure they would not put one into the back of the net. She has shut out 15 opponents this year, and didn’t allow a single goal in the district, regional nor state tournaments.
In the 45th and 50th minutes, free kicks by Mason junior Rachel Kazman were either punched out by Simmons or caught up in the rubble of bodies in the box, giving the Mustangs no clear looks.
On one of the most exciting plays of the day, Turner launched a bicycle-kick in the 54th minute towards the goal, but it sailed just over the crossbar.
As Turner again attempted to tie the game up in the waning seconds of the match, her free kick landed harmlessly into the arms of Simmons, who ran off the field yelling as time expired.
Despite the outcome, Parsons felt as though her team never gave up and actually “outplayed the other team.”
The determination the Mustangs had was perhaps best exemplified by freshman forward Karen Hamill, who, due to heat exhaustion, vomited on the sidelines, only to return to the match.
Parsons also noted the efforts of a pair of sophomores, Tegan Argo and Kim Kenny.
“They definitely stepped up today, playing some of their best soccer,” Parsons said.
With the end of the match, so concluded Mustangs’ season, and with it the high school careers of leaders Roxy Sweeney and Kate Turner, the team’s only seniors.
“In losing Katie and Roxy, we’re definitely losing a voice on the field, and a lot of leadership qualities,” said Parsons. “They are definitely our big ball winners, so some underclassmen will have to step up next year.”
Despite their sixth loss of the season — four of which came at the hands of Clarke — the Mustangs returned home to Falls Church with their heads held high.
“I just love these girls to death,” said Turner. “They all played really well and we’re all proud of each other.”
Note: Turner will attend the College of Charleston next year to play soccer, while Sweeney will continue her education, and possibly her soccer career, at East Carolina University … Radford’s Krista Patterson continued her impressive state tournament on Saturday, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 overtime victory over Clarke County in the state championship. It was just Clarke’s second loss of the year.