An uneven regular season is just a speck in the rearview mirror for George Mason High School’s girls soccer team as it sits two wins away from winning its 11th straight state championship this weekend.
The past week saw Mason (15-3-1) win every which way one could imagine. In the Mustangs’ third meeting of the year against Madison County High School last week on May 30, they muscled out a 1-0 victory. Two days later in its fourth match-up in two months with Clarke County High School, Mason blanked the rival Eagles 3-0. And for the state quarterfinal Tuesday night against Poquoson High School, the Mustangs built an early lead and staved off a late rally for a 3-1 victory to send them to Virginia High School League’s Spring Jubilee down in Radford on Friday.
A secret to the team’s turnaround is its more unified approach on the field. In years past, standouts such as Mason graduate Rebecca Crouch or soccer maven Izzy Armstrong could be counted on to swing a game Mason’s way. With neither on the squad this year the Mustangs have learned to spread the wealth, and the effect that’s had on the team’s development was slower, but more significant for this group.
“I want everyone to get involved in our gameplans. Everybody should be touching the ball and advancing it toward the goal or completing a clear or whatever else the game calls for,” Mason head coach George Bitadze said. “It allows us to be more flexible when we compete. So when we face different teams we’re not coming at them the same way, and we’re figuring out ways to play the right kind of style that game needs.”
The Mustangs were pressing all the right buttons in its recent contests. Against Clarke County last Friday, three different players scored each goal with two different players assisting (one was unassisted). After senior defender Sedona Decint and junior defender Kristen Kay beat back an Eagles surge, junior midfielder Ariana Roco connected with senior midfielder Victoria Rund who zoomed by Clarke County’s back line and juked the team’s goalkeeper for the opening goal in the 23rd minute.
Mason wouldn’t score again until the 56th minute when a crowd of players at the top of Clarke County’s penalty box knocked the ball to senior midfielder Hannah Rollins and she finished it with a right-footer to the near side. Senior goalkeeper Laura Whitaker made three huge saves from the 62nd to the 65th minute to preserve the Mustangs 2-0 lead until Rund found junior midfielder Maura Mann for the insurance goal and the game’s final margin.
The match against Poquoson had a similar feel to it. Mason scored early on a Rund pass to sophomore forward Emma Rollins in the 12th minute, and the two teamed up again when Rund’s feed was lunged at by Rollins to skip in the second goal in the 38th minute. Junior midfielder Maddie Lacroix struck early in the second half with a low rip that put the Mustangs up 3-0. And even though a dazzling shot from 25 yards out got past Whitaker for the Bulls’ only goal, Mason’s defense held strong and smothered any remaining opportunities.
Now it’s on to Radford to face Maggie Walker Governor’s School early Friday morning. For Bitadze, the team needs to do two things to win: Stay composed and sync up with the game’s flow. If they do that, Mason will win its 11th in a row.