George Mason High School’s varsity girls soccer team braved a gauntlet over the past week with a season-saving, sudden-death overtime win against Maggie Walker Governor’s School last Wednesday serving as the lead-in for last Friday’s 4-2 victory over Stuarts Draft High School. The two victories helped the Mustangs earn their 10th consecutive 2A East region title and now look to replicate that feat at the state level this weekend.
It’s safe to say neither game was easy. Prior to last Wednesday’s 3-2 win against Maggie Walker, Mason (21-1) had posted 26 goals in the playoffs while keeping opponents scoreless in that same stretch. Last week’s action saw the Mustangs narrowly pull out a victory in Richmond only to follow that up with a championship game where some second-half heroics provided the jolt Mason needed to prepare for this weekend’s state tournament.
“When you don’t put your head down, even when you feel you might not win, anything can happen,” Mason head coach Allison Klink remarked.
Against Maggie Walker, the Mustangs had to overcome a fierce regional rival in a win-or-go-home game, with the cherry on top being Mason had to do it on the Dragons’ turf. Early into the first half the Mustangs took a 1-0 lead when a Maggie Walker defender was too aggressive in guarding sophomore midfielder Maura Mann inside the box and fouled her, leading to Mann’s converted penalty kick. The two teams traded surges for the rest of the first and most of the second half as Mason clung to a 1-0 advantage. Eventually, Maggie Walker broke through and got a shot past junior goalkeeper Laura Whitaker to knot the score at one apiece and send the game into overtime.
The intensity was escalating even as fatigue was setting in during the extended game. At the end of the first of two five-minute overtime periods, neither team was able to tilt the score in their favor. Maggie Walker didn’t wait long into the second OT, however, when they earned the go-ahead goal just 90 seconds in. Mason didn’t flinch and kept up the pressure, but the equalizer eluded them. With 40 seconds separating them from a fruitless season, the Mustangs finally netted the tying goal after the ball was pinged between juniors Izzy Armstrong and Victoria Rund before finding freshman midfielder Fiona Howard who sank her shot and forced a sudden-death overtime period.
Mann proved to be the woman of the match by snagging a loose ball at midfield, snaking her way through the the Dragons defense and inadvertently causing a collision between the Maggie Walker goalkeeper and defender while opening up the net for the decisive goal.
“That game showed us that nothing’s given anymore,” senior midfielder Rebecca Crouch said. “We learned how to finish strong, and saw that other teams are going to stick it to the end and we need to match that, since that’s the only way we’ll end up winning.”
Last Friday’s regional championship game versus Stuarts Draft provided another batch of excitement (both good and bad) for the Mustangs.
By the 13th minute Mason took the lead on a left-footed rip by Crouch that went just low enough to clear the crossbar and connect with the nylon. Not to be outdone, Stuarts Draft answered 10 minutes later when a Cougar midfielder chip-shotted a ball that took an awkward bounce and caused Whitaker to misread it, allowing the shot to roll into the goal.
Mason was reeling from that point on in the first half. Stuarts Draft wasn’t granting the Mustangs defense any clears and hounded defenders deep in their third of the field. Anytime Mason was able to earn a stop and find an open lane to move the ball through, the pass was errant or poorly touched, keeping Stuarts Draft in position to maintain possession.The Mustangs just barely squeezed by the Cougars’ advances and made it to halftime with the 1-1 tie intact.
“Coming into the game we didn’t realize how physical and strong [Stuarts Draft] was going to come out,” Crouch continued. “At the half we focused on picking up the energy, passing the ball around and maintaining possession.”
From there, Mason regained its footing. Eight minutes into the second half Armstrong sent a pass Crouch’s way that she knocked past Stuarts Drafts’ goalkeeper to give the Mustangs a 2-1 lead. Crouch returned the favor less than 10 minutes later when she hooked up with Armstrong for her first goal of the game and boosted Mason’s advantage to 3-1.
The Cougars weren’t finished as they cut the Mustangs’ lead in half with a quick shot with 5:23 remaining in the game. Stuarts Draft continued to press and moments later a Cougar forward stole a ball at midfield and had a one-on-one breakaway with only Whitaker standing in the way to prevent the tie. Whitaker hesitated, then charged the forward and rattled her just enough to cause the shot to miss wide left. In the game’s final minute, sophomore midfielder Maddie Lacroix iced the game with another goal and ensured the Mustangs top-seeded berth at the 2A State Tournament.
Mason will face Graham High School in the opening round of the tournament at Radford University this Friday at 11 a.m.