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Highlanders Reach Liberty Finals

But defending champion Woodson prevails 3-0 in title game.

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McLean High field hockey players Johanna Morrison (9, left) and Caitlin Baker (7, background) battle for possession of the ball with Woodson players during last week’s Liberty District finals at Madison.

Shelly Montgomery, this year’s Liberty District field hockey Player of the Year, said she and her Woodson High teammates were highly motivated to successfully defend this year’s district tournament title.

Many of the girls who were a part of last year’s 2007 championship team graduated last spring. This year’s ’08 Cavaliers’ team had a new look about it, and Montgomery and her teammates wanted to garner a district crown with a somewhat different cast of players.

Woodson successfully achieved that goal on Thursday night when, in the finals of the district tournament at Madison High School in Vienna, it defeated a solid McLean team, 3-0, for its second straight district tournament championship. The ’07 Woodson squad defeated Langley in the finals.

"The main thing we were looking to do was show that even though we lost a lot of [last year’s] seniors to college, we’re still a good program," said Montgomery, a junior midfielder. "We all just really have lots of support for each other."

Woodson (16-2), which was the district tournament’s No. 1-seed, is next scheduled to play Edison in a first round game of the 16-team Northern Region tournament. The postseason contest will take place at Oakton High School on Monday afternoon at 3:30.

McLean (14-5-2), meanwhile, will play a first round region playoff game against Mount Vernon. That contest is set for 5 p.m. Monday evening at Oakton.

<b>WOODSON</b> has been a closely knit group all season. That team-bonding characteristic by the Cavaliers came to the forefront on Thursday when senior defender Liesa Brauch, a second team all-district selection this season, had to leave the game midway through the first half of a scoreless game after getting hit in the face by a highly struck ball. Play was halted for several minutes while Brauch was attended to on the field.

But when the game started up again, Woodson was a fired up outfit and almost immediately got onto the scoreboard after forcing a McLean penalty during a strong rush on the goal. The penalty, which came seconds following a Woodson corner try, resulted in a penalty stroke chance for senior midfielder Mary Beth Barham, who sent a sizzling liner into the left side of the McLean goal for a 1-0 Woodson lead with 13 minutes, nine seconds remaining in the half.

"That [injury] really kicked us into gear," said Montgomery.

In fact, Woodson, throughout most of the game, was applying intense pressure on the McLean end of the field. Highlander goalie Sarah Park had several kick saves throughout the night. But the continual pressure resulted in the Cavaliers’ second penalty stroke of the contest after McLean was called for using the wrong side of the stick in the scoring box. The result was another Barham stroke chance score, another liner into the left side, with only 16 seconds left in the first half. The goal gave Woodson a comfortable 2-0 lead at the intermission.

The Cavaliers earned nine corner chances in the initial half, compared to none for McLean. Both of the team’s first half goals, in fact, were set up by corners.

Woodson pretty much put the game away for good in the first 10 minutes of the second half when, following another corner chance, senior forward Jaime Pritchard pounded the ball into the goal for an insurmountable 3-0 Cavaliers’ lead.

McLean did not earn its first corner chance of the game until the final few minutes of the contest, resulting in a hard grounder shot by junior midfielder Caitlin Baker that was wide left.

<b>GOING</b> into the finals, McLean, which had lost to Woodson, 6-2, in the two teams’ regular season meeting, understood it would be a difficult task in overcoming Woodson.

"We knew we had a real challenge ahead of us," said McLean first year head coach Summer Hardman, whose No. 3-seeded team reached the championship game with playoff wins over No. 6-seed Langley and No. 2 Madison, 2-1. "I thought we played an outstanding game. Woodson is a very talented team. We put our best foot forward. It was a good accomplishment to be here tonight."

Woodson coach Becky Preston, this season’s District Coach of the Year, credited the Highlanders, who had not reached the district finals for several years, with making outstanding progress this fall season.

"I think McLean’s a very good team," said Preston. "They’ve made a great turnaround in their program. They’re a very impressive team.

"We had the [scoring] opportunities tonight," said Preston. "Our passing looked good."

Woodson, as a result of winning the regular season title, earned a first round district tournament bye before defeating No. 5 Thomas Jefferson in a semifinals game to reach the finals.

Montgomery said the Cavaliers’ motto all season long has been "No Regrets," meaning the team has been determined to give it their all every game it plays.

"Before each game, we make individual and team goals," said Montgomery. "Then we help each other achieve them. The big thing is coming out and giving everything we have."

Woodson players recently named to the first team all district squad were: midfielder Shelly Montgomery (Player of the Year), midfielder Becca Geist, forward Mary Beth Barham and forward Jaime Pritchard. Second team selections were: forward Eliana Brown, defenders Liesa Brauch, Marie Whitehead and Jenn Mikell, and goalie Kara Halpin.

First team players for McLean were: midfielders Caitlin Baker and Elisa Enriquez, and forward Olivia Applewhite. Highlanders to earn second team recognition were: defender Johanna Morrison and forward Jamie Bell.