Two days of constant rain and a 24-hour game delay did little to stop the freight train that is the George Mason girls soccer team, which shut out Wilson Memorial in the group A state semifinal at Radford University on Saturday morning, 3-0.
“We talked about before the game, we knew what Mason brought to the table, so it wasn’t anything that we were surprised with, but they’re just so good,” Wilson coach Scott Crist said. “They’re big, physical, and so skilled with the ball. They’re the total package. We knew we’d have to play an almost flawless game. Once they get a lead, it’s very difficult to come back because the players they have in the back are so good.”
The Mustangs, facing the Green Hornets for the second time in two weeks after defeating them in the Region B final, had control of the match tempo from the get-go. Just three minutes into the game, Mason nearly took an early lead when senior Kim Kenny sent a floater down the middle of the field for sophomore Violet Miller to make a play on, but Miller was tripped up and Wilson goalkeeper Brittany Reid covered the ball to end the threat.
Mason continued to attack on the other side in the first half, as the Green Hornet defense bent but refused to break. On three consecutive plays, Miller wove through the midfield but had the ball kicked loose by a pair of Wilson defenders before she could create a scoring opportunity. Senior Mayssa Chehata reached the box in the 27th minute but her chance was smothered by Reid. In the first half alone, Mason was called for five offside penalties, the majority of which coming on aggressive thru-balls by the midfielders.
“We just talked about playing a flat-back four and told them to stay pushed up and if they played a ball through or over it would probably be offside,” Crist said. “It was our strategy to keep our defenders pushed up and hope we got an offside call.”
As active as the Green Hornet defense was, their counterparts on the other end of the field were equally as quiet. Stroup, classmate Tegan Argo, and junior Kelley Frank kept all of Wilson’s possessions brief, and did not allow the ball to reach junior goalkeeper Nicole Mitchell a single time. The lockdown extended Mason’s streak of halves without allowing a shot on goalkeeper to three, dating back to their match last Tuesday against Washington & Lee when senior goalkeeper Caitlin Sickler went the entire night without even a save opportunity.
“Our defense played with intensity and excellence today,” Mitchell said. “Defense doesn’t usually get a whole lot of credit.”
“In a game like this all you need is one defensive error to get a shot on goal, so I think they deserve a lot of credit,” Mason coach Jennifer Parsons added. “I’ve never seen my back four this fired up for a game before; they were awesome.”
Most notably, though, was the defense’s ability to lock down Green Hornet star Lindsay Suyes. Suyes, a freshman, had a strong game in the two teams’ last meeting, but found little breathing room against the Mustang defense this time.
“We communicated a lot and we learned how to contain and communicate in the back and it really showed,” Stroup said. “Veteran players from last year came back and trained with us so we could experience the speed and technique that they had so we can better contain [Wilson today].”
After several near misses, the Mustangs finally got on the board with 14 minutes to go in the half when Miller took a fast-break down the center of the field, forced Reid out of the box, and rolled the ball into the left corner of the net to give her team a 1-0 lead.
In her new role coming off the bench, Mustang freshman Leah Roth made her presence felt throughout the game, playing a big role in the offense. Roth, along with Miller, led several scoring pushes late in the first half, only to have them stopped short close to the goal. At the five minute mark, she had the ball kicked loose and tapped out of bounds by Wilson sophomore defender Chloe Cawiezel just feet away from the goal. In the final minute of the first half, Roth cut across the center of the field and sent a slicing shot from 20 yards away towards the goal but Reid was there once again to smother it.
After being contained relatively in the first half, Roth found her revenge just seven minutes into the second 40 minutes. She scorched the top left corner of the net from medium range from the right side off a pass from Kenny to put Mason up 2-0.
“When you don’t start someone that’s used to starting, I think they get a little fired up and that’s what [Roth] did today,” Parsons said. “She just needed a little kick start to get her going today, and she came out and had one of her best games of the season.”
“The other teams must absolutely shudder because our team is ridiculous,” Stroup added. “The amount of experience we have, how hard everyone works in the off season, everyone deserves a chance on the field. We’ve had a lot of lineup changes to work it out so that we have the best 11 on the field that would put in everything they have.”
On its ensuing possession, Mason came down the field and nearly scored again on a fast-break by Chehata, but the move was stopped by junior defender, Danielle Dove. Second later, another shot by Miller was corralled by a diving Reid. The threat was finally ended on the following play when Kenny’s header landed on top of the net.
After another very brief possession by Wilson, the Mustangs found themselves threatening again. Chehata found a soft spot on the right side of the goal and hit top-left from 20 yards out to put the game well out of reach. The 3-0 score in the 68th minute proved to be too much for the Green Hornet offense to overcome.
In the final 20 minutes, Mitchell was finally tested but never gave way. Wilson created an open shot at the 12 minute mark, and two more in the final eight minutes of the match but all three shots were easily saved by the first year goalkeeper.
“Having Nicole in goal was huge,” Stroup said. “She has developed so much as a player with her athleticism in the goal and her height makes the whole defense much more stable, more than at the beginning of the season because she’s made so much more progress.”
“Their keeper [Mitchell] is very athletic,” Crist added. “The thing about her is, she doesn’t get a lot of action, because their defense is so good. We only had really two or three good looks on goal today. She’s very impressive, the way she played.”
With the victory, the defending champion Mustangs advance to the state finals for the third-straight year. Their opponent will be the local team, Radford High School, who defeated James River 4-0 in their own state semifinal matchup. Mason and the Bobcats have a long history, most recently going into penalty kicks in the semifinals of last season’s state tournament.
“They’re just very difficult to penetrate,” Crist said. “They’ve played here before, we thought that George Mason had everything to lose and we didn’t really because no one expected us to win, so we thought that they might be feeling the pressure. They played better than I thought they would. All 80 minutes they were outstanding.”
“We have a different kind of nervousness, now we have to protect what we’ve already won,” Stroup added. “There are eight seniors on this team, so it was never about winning the states game, it was about staying with these girls and not letting this be our last game.”