Radford High School had senior Mary Wiley, the record holder for single-season goals, a fleet-footed striker, and an experienced goalie. They were fortunate enough to be playing in the group A state championship game, just minutes away from their home stadium. The Bobcats even had their school name emblazoned on the left side of the scoreboard.
None of these things, however, could prevent the George Mason girls soccer team from defending their state championship Sunday morning at Radford University’s Cupp Stadium. The Mustangs defeated the Bobcats 3-2 in a re-match of the 2008 state semi-final, a game in which Mason also won.
“I was excited to play them [Radford] again this year because last year in the semis we won in PK’s, and we felt that wasn’t legit enough– so there was some extra motivation this year,” Mason tri-captain Kim Kenny said.
This year’s game was not forced into PK’s, but with less than three minutes to go in the match, it appeared as though it might be. After a see-saw battle for a full 77 minutes of play, things were knotted up when Mason took the lead for good. After gathering the ball following a free kick by senior Mayssa Chehata, sophomore Violet Miller cut toward the middle of the goal and rolled a shot passed Smith into the right side of the net to give her team the lead with 2:35 to play, and ultimately, another state title as well.
“We knew it was the perfect opportunity to score.” Miller said. “It was sort of a miss-kick, but in the end I knew I had to shoot it wherever I was on the field.”
“When I took that kick I was thinking ‘Don’t mess up,'” Chehata added. “When I took the kick I thought ‘oh darn’ because it went to the top of the 18 instead of in. Of course, Violet is a magician and she turned the ball and had that perfect shot into the corner. It was all her.”
The scoring began just as it ended, with Miller finding the net. After a stalemate through the first 19 minutes of the first half, Miller, sprinting through the midfield, broke through the Bobcat defense creating a full 10 yards of separation between herself and the Radford back four. Miller would get the best of Smith as she sent a roller into the left corner of the goal to give Mason a 1-0 lead.
“After Violet scored the second time, I was like, ‘we’re going to win this,'” Kenny added. “I had no doubt we were going to win after that.”
Just six minutes later, Radford struck to break even. Working from the left side of the field, Radford’s Anna Witkowsky rolled what appeared to be the game tying goal past Mason goalkeeper Nicole Mitchell, but the ball tailed off the right end of the goal. However, the state’s leading goal-scorer, Wiley, was able to sprint in and tap the off-mark shot into the right side of the goal to tie the game at one.
In the 30th minute of the first half, Radford took its first lead of the contest on a goal from junior Pip Pattison, the team’s number two weapon. Freshman Sadie Rose, a reserve midfielder, dished off to Pattison who was camped five yards in front of the goal. Pattison then headed the ball into the left corner to make the score 2-1.
The momentum stayed in the Bobcat’s favor for the remainder of the first half as the Mustangs’ frustration began to mount. Radford defender Sable Skewes physically manhandled Miller, getting the better end of a pair of violent collisions on the sideline. Miller’s frustration became clear as she would be called for pushes on two separate occasions when trying to create separation from Skewes later in the game.
“It got to my head a little.” Miller said when asked about Skewes’ physicality. “The ref wasn’t calling anything on her, but at halftime, Mason athletic trainer Coach Vicki Galliher and the other coaches talked to me and I knew I had to get all of that out of my head, and not let any player take me out of my game.”
Despite getting more shots on goal than Radford — five to four — the Mustangs trailed 2-1 going into the half.
“I told them there’s forty minutes left in the season, and they had a lot of work to do,” Mason head coach Jennifer Parsons said about her halftime adjustments. “I don’t know that we played our best in the first half, but they just worked great; they worked great for each other in the second half.”
Mason got to work in the second 40 minutes, putting their first half frustrations behind them as they rallied to overcome the one goal deficit. With Pattison resting on the bench, the Mason back four, anchored by seniors Abby Stroup and Tegan Argo, was able to focus on shutting down Wiley, which they did for the rest of the match. With Radford’s two most dangerous scorers non-factors, the Mustangs’ offense was able to control the ball and work for open shots.
“I think the fact that we didn’t finish six times in the first half decided the game,” Radford coach Lee Boehling said. “Literally, thirty seconds later [after Miller’s goal], we put one right across the mouth of the goal and have two kids who would have knocked it in and we didn’t. We didn’t finish in the final third.
“Getting beat by a better team, it bothers me but it doesn’t bother me as much as when I feel like when were the most dangerous team and we didn’t finish,” he continued. “We scored almost 170 goals this year and couldn’t finish in a game like this.”
Just 12 minutes into the half, Mason was able to even things up, capping a methodical possession. Off a pass from the left side by Miller, Kenny set up in front of the goal and sent the ball into the lower right corner to tie the match at two apiece.
“I think a lot of time we rush in the front, so we’ve just learned to work it around and not force it,” Kenny said about the patient possession.
From that point, the Mustangs took control of the game. They continued to outshoot Radford, getting four shots on goal in the first 20 minutes while holding the Bobcats to none. With 14 minutes to play, Kenny, who yesterday was named the group A state Player of the Year, and classmate Chehata each found open shots on Smith within 45 seconds of each other, but the senior goalie was able to corral both of them.
“I told the girls in the back that they needed to play solid in the back and not give up any easy goals,” Boehling added. “All three of those goals were quality goals, Britt came up big on saves when she needed to. She was very solid in the back. Very few teams get to see her because very few teams get into the defensive third of the field on us.”
On the ensuing possession, Pattison wove her way deep into the Mason half of the field but had the ball knocked away by a sliding Stroup before she could work an open shot. That would be the story the rest of the game for the Radford offense as the Mason defense refused to budge.
“We’ve got three seniors back there and they wanted to go out with a state title, Parsons said of her defenders. “They played excellent yesterday, I think that was the best they’ve played all season but they matched it again today; and to defend Pattison and Wiley like they did was great.”
“We practiced beforehand knowing that Wiley was going to be a great player and a target player,” Stroup said. “We expected that and tried to contain her as much as possible and it worked out.”
Miller’s go-ahead goal, her second of the game, with two and a half minutes to go would be all Mason needed to secure their second consecutive state title. Several Radford desperation shots later, the clock struck triple zeros and the trophy belonged to Mason. Again.
For seven members of the Mason team, the win marks their third state championship in just over one year. The Mustangs took last spring’s state soccer championship, the cross-country championship in the fall, and last winter’s division two basketball title. Freshman Leah Roth, for instance, has won three state titles in three seasons in her rookie year as a Mustang, a feat never accomplished before at Mason.
However, in spite of the abundance of trophies, the most recent one should be the sweetest.
“We came off confident from winning last year, but we wanted to prove to Radford and everyone else watching that it wasn’t a fluke,” Stroup said. “We just wanted to prove that we play the best soccer in the state and we deserve to be out here.”