In a display of tenacity and well-executed playoff soccer Friday night, May 15, the McLean and Woodson High girls’ teams went back and forth, putting wave after wave of offensive scoring threats together.
But, the Liberty District championship contest ended up being low scoring. It took extra play to decide the affair as McLean, behind a game-winning overtime goal by Kristina Bettner, upended the Cavaliers, 2-1, in the title game played at Woodson.
McLean (13-2), the eight-team tournament’s No. 2-seed, won the game over top seeded Woodson despite playing nearly 15 minutes of the second half and overtime short-handed, the result of a red card given to freshman center midfielder Josie Seebeck. The penalty was called on a play in which both Seebeck and a Woodson player were jumping high into the air in a head ball situation at around the midfield area.
McLean Assistant Coach Marc Cascio was so irked by the officials’ call that, following an animated argument in defense of Seebeck’s play on the ball, he was thrown out of the game.
From then on, McLean, under second-year head coach Laura O’Brien, appeared more determined to win, despite having just 10 players on the field to Woodson’s 11.
"I can’t express to you [the achievement of] winning with 10 players against a team like this," said O’Brien, who admitted to having doubts as to whether her team could win the contest following the red card loss of Seebeck. "I’m a realist and didn’t know if it would happen. But the chemistry on the team this year has been incredible. That second half was all about heart."
It was a sweet win for McLean, which a year ago reached the district tournament finals before losing to Madison.
This week, McLean, with the district tourney title under its belt, was set to compete in the 16-team Northern Region tournament. The Highlanders were scheduled to host Centreville in a first round contest on Tuesday night.
<b>FRIDAY NIGHT’S DISTRICT</b> title game was close throughout. At the time of the Seebeck red card penalty, the game was deadlocked at 1-1. Thereafter, the game reached greater intensity as both teams made rushes at their opponent’s net. In one instance, Woodson senior forward Lindsey Ottavio got free for a straight-on, close range shot. But her attempt sailed over the McLean crossbar with 7 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in regulation.
Four minutes earlier, McLean had nearly broke the tie when senior forward Jasmine Mohandesi sent a sizzling shot towards the goal from six yards out, only to see the quality attempt thwarted as a result of a sliding block save by Woodson’s Brett Thomas.
Ultimately, the game went into overtime where McLean hit pay dirt a few minutes into the second, five minute OT session when Bettner, a sophomore midfielder, knocked the ball in from the right side, despite colliding with onrushing Woodson goalie Marlee Stynchula, who was trying to block the shot.
The score was set up by a 40-yard pass from Highlander Kate Yensen from the other side of the field.
"Kate has a whiz of a kick and made a great feed," said Bettner. "I saw [Kate’s kick] was short and went to the middle [for the ball]. I got smacked by the goalie. The shot was off the outside of my left foot. I saw it going in when I was going down. It was inspiring."
The McLean players were ecstatic following the goal, which put McLean ahead, 2-1, but the team still had to complete the final 2 1/2 minutes of the five minute session to preserve the win. Woodson, however, never threatened to score again and the game ended. The final whistle ignited a spontaneous Highlander celebration.
Moments later, Tom Herman, the McLean director of student activities, presented the Highlanders with the district championship trophy. After that, the thrilled McLean players posed for victory pictures, enjoying the program’s first district tournament title since 1997.
The victory was the final punctuation to a remarkable district tournament run for the Highlanders, who dominated South Lakes, 6-0, in a quarterfinals round win before needing penalty kicks to triumph over No. 3-seed Stone Bridge. Then, against Woodson, a team the Highlanders had lost to in the regular season by 3-0, McLean showed no drop off or letdown in play, despite coming off the emotional win over the Bulldogs.
McLean and Woodson, in the district finals game, played a scoreless first half before the Cavaliers struck with a goal by Jane Miller, who, from the right side, sent a crossing, 12-yard shot into the far side net to give the Cavs a 1-0 lead six minutes into the latter half.
McLean earned the equalizer nearly 15 minutes later when Yenzen, following a long kick into the box area from teammate Elisa Enriquez, gained possession of the ball. With a defender hounding her and Woodson goaltender Marlee Stynchula charging, Yenzen managed to tap the ball into the net for the key score.
From there on, both teams played all out. Even with the red card given to Seebeck later in the half, McLean managed to pull out the hard-fought win.
"[The red card] was a little demoralizing," said McLean goalie Alexis Longwell, who earned the win in the net. "Josie goes in hard on everything. We knew we had to win for her."
Longwell said the Highlanders were motivated to avenge the regular season loss to Woodson.
"The win is great and it feels like redemption," she said. "That [regular season loss] definitely motivated us. We had to step it up and get it done."
McLean sophomore midfielder Andie Romness, an All-District First Team selection this season, said the Highlanders have been highly focused over the latter stretch of the season.
"Our intensity has been really high lately," said Romness. "We’ve played with a lot of heart.