Brooke Alexander, the first-year Oakton High girls’ soccer coach, recalled a conversation with her team early in the season in which she tried to convince the Cougars that they had the potential to be one of the better teams in the Northern Region. The players, many of whom had gone through a 6-8 season the year before, weren’t buying it.
“I said at the beginning of the season, `You guys are good enough to play at a high level.’ They said, `Coach, you don’t understand, we weren’t .500 last year.’”
It turned out the new coach knew what she was talking about. Oakton (14-3) won its third straight region playoff game Wednesday night, defeating West Springfield in penalty kicks in the semifinal contest played at Robinson Secondary School. Following a 2-2 deadlock after 100 minutes of play, the game went to penalty shots where the Cougars converted four kicks to the Spartans’ two.
The clinching penalty kick came off the foot of senior midfielder Christy Hassell, a team captain who sent a scorching liner into the left side of the net to clinch the win. The converted PK started off a spontaneous on-field Oakton celebration.
“We won this one tonight for the seniors,” said Alexander, whose squad has five 12th-graders. “They stuck with this program.”
The win advances Oakton to Friday night’s region championship game where it will meet Concorde District foe Chantilly at Madison High School in Vienna. The dramatic semifinal win also assured Oakton of a spot in next week’s eight-team Virginia AAA state tournament.
In the penalty kicks format, five players from each team are selected to take the kicks. Whichever team converts the most kicks wins. On Wednesday, Hassell, her team’s fourth player to take a PK, clinched the match with her successful conversion, making it unnecessary for a fifth round of kicks.
“I felt nervous but confident because we’ve been practicing [PKs] at the end of practices since districts,” said Hassell, who earlier in the evening had tied the game at 1-1 with a first-half goal. “It was incredible [when the game-winner went in] and so exciting. I wanted to turn around and give everyone a big hug.”
Alexander was confident Hassell would make her kick.
“She wanted to take the last one,” said Alexander. “She’s an incredibly skilled player and calm under pressure.”
Prior to Hassell’s PK, Cougar players Jenny Miller, Alexandra Straton and Caroline Coyer had made their shots. Julia Stejskal and Amalya Clayton made West Springfield’s conversions.
Oakton senior goalie Erica Stein stopped two of the four West Springfield PKs.
<b>WEST SPRINGFIELD</b> opened the scoring less than 12 minutes in when Jessie Gonzalez found the net following a corner kick by Katie Scanlon. Oakton’s Hassell tied the game 13 minutes later when, from straight on the goal, she punched a close range shot that hit off a defender and went high into the right side of the net.
“Caroline Coyer dribbled down the sideline and crossed it,” said Hassell of the score. “I kicked it in. I didn’t hit it very well but deflected it in.”
Oakton took the lead three minutes into the second half on a close-range header goal off the left side by Coyer, a freshmen midfielder. That gave the Cougars a 2-1 lead. Later in the half, West Springfield’s Bekah Adams, following another Scanlon corner kick, knocked in a high shot from the left wing area to make the score 2-2.
Neither team would score again over the next 31-plus minutes of play, including four five-minute OT sessions.
After the game, Alexander, the Oakton coach, credited assistant Kasey Davenport, a former goalkeeper at George Mason University, and her determined players with putting together an unforgettable spring season.
“I’m lucky,” said Alexander. “I have a good influx of young, talented, eager and excited kids. This feels like a dream come true.”
The coach said Oakton, which lost in the Concorde District semifinals to Chantilly two weeks ago, was a confident group going into regionals. The Cougars, the No. 3 seed from the Concorde, defeated Woodson and Annandale to reach the semifinals.
“Our goal in the West Springfield game was to have fun,” she said.
For West Springfield (15-2-2), which defeated South County in the Patriot District tournament finals, the loss to Oakton at regionals was a tough ending to the season.
“We got two goals tonight, and that’s usually enough [for us] to win a game,” said Spartans coach J.T. Alukonis. “It was a great game between two very good teams. They had opportunities. We had opportunities. We’re walking off the field with a feeling of disappointment and that we could still be playing, but we had a successful season. We have the essence of a team and great team spirit.”
Oakton, meanwhile, will be meeting a Chantilly team it has lost to twice this season, including the setback in the district semifinals.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough game,” said Hassell. “But if we play with heart and intensity, we can win.”