Kristen Melchiori has a knack for coming up big in the postseason. The tall, talented senior member of the Chantilly High girls’ soccer team has tallied eight playoff goals in her junior and 12th-grade years combined.
But it was Melchiori’s game-changing assist that sparked the Chargers to their 4-2 Northern Region semifinals win over McLean on Wednesday evening at Robinson Secondary School. The forward/midfielder, with the game deadlocked at 2-2 with less than 20 minutes remaining in the second half, had received the ball on the right side of the field during a Chantilly offensive rush.
Following a couple of moves to elude some Highlander defenders, she lined a crossing pass across the goal area where senior teammate Kaitlyn Manley knocked the ball in from close range to give Chantilly a 3-2 lead it would not lose with 17 minutes, 17 seconds showing on the clock.
Less than four minutes later, Chantilly scored again when freshman forward Morgan Morris found the net off a rebound. That goal, which came with 13:30 left, was set up by a long, 30-yard kick from the right wing area of the field from junior midfielder Gen McManus. Her strike bounded off the near post and out in front of the goal where Morris gathered the rebound and put the ball away to make the score 4-2, all but putting the finishing touches on the contest.
While McLean, this year’s Liberty District champion, did apply plenty of offensive pressure over the game’s remaining 13-plus minutes, it was not able to score again.
“We didn’t want this to be our last game,” said Melchiori, afterwards.
Chantilly (16-2-1), with the win, advanced to this Friday night’s region title game against Concorde District foe Oakton. The contest is scheduled to take place at Madison High school at 5:30 p.m. The victory also assured the Chargers a seeding at next week’s eight-team state AAA tournament. McLean, meanwhile, saw its season end at 15-3.
<b>ON A CHANTILLY TEAM</b> made up of numerous playmakers, Melchiori’s steady, non-flashy style of play has often been overlooked. But she has been a huge contributor to Chantilly’s postseason success both this season and last year. In her team’s run to the region semifinals in 2008, Melchiori tallied four postseason goals.
This spring, she scored two goals in Chantilly’s district quarterfinal win over Fairfax two weeks ago, and she also netted a couple of scores in the Chargers’ 2-1 first-round region playoff victory over Madison on Tuesday, May 19. She is set to play the sport collegiately at Division III power Lynchburg College, where she has earned an academic scholarship.
Against McLean, Melchiori and her teammates, who were coming off a come-from-behind 4-2 region quarterfinals win over South County, came out sizzling. Chantilly goals by freshman midfielder Olivia Colella and Manley within the first five minutes of play made the score 2-0 before many of the spectators on the pleasant, sun-splashed evening had even gotten themselves seated.
“The first five minutes were phenomenal,” said Chantilly coach Melissa Bibbee. “We were all over the place.”
McLean, however, got back into the game when senior forward Jasmine Mohandesi scored from close range to get the Highlanders within 2-1. The score, which came with 26:35 still remaining in the half, was set up by a 40-yard free kick assist from sophomore midfielder Andrea Romness.
Later in the game, within the first five minutes of the second half, McLean scored the equalizer when sophomore midfielder Kristina Bettner somehow got the ball past charging Chantilly goalie Lauren Jancuska from eight yards out. Bettner, after getting the shot off from the right side, went tumbling down as Jancuska, attempting to make a play on the ball, dove into her. The score made it 2-2 with 35:39 remaining in the game.
“I think we let down a little bit,” said Melchiori, of McLean’s two goals that erased the Chargers’ 2-0 lead.
“Once we tied it, I really thought we were going to be able to win,” said McLean coach Laura O’Brien.
But Chantilly, about 17 minutes later, gained the lead for good when Melchiori and Manley teamed up for the goal that made it 3-2 Chargers.
Following the game, it was an excited Chantilly squad that celebrated and looked forward to Friday’s finals.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Melchiori, who has nine goals and seven assists this season. “I’m proud of the way we’ve been playing.”
Bibbee credited her seven seniors with leading the Chargers this spring.
“Making states is a big honor for the seniors,” she said. “They deserve it. They really are the heart of the team.”
The coach was impressed by McLean’s play throughout the match.
“McLean is a very skilled, organized and disciplined group,” said Bibbee.
O’Brien, the McLean coach, said the game’s early minutes were too much for the Highlanders to overcome.
“You can’t come out flat the first five minutes of the game against a team of that caliber and expect to stay alive,” said O’Brien.
But the loss hardly takes away from the outstanding season the Highlanders experienced.
“A complete, total success,” said O’Brien, whose squad won region playoff games over Centreville and Lake Braddock to reach the semifinals. “We won the district championship and wanted to go as far as possible.”