The 2009 high school sports year was one in which numerous teams from the surrounding McLean, Vienna and Reston areas stepped up and put together breakthrough seasons. There were championships, dramatic turnaround campaigns and the magic that takes place when members of a roster come together as one to form a tightly knit unit. The following are a few of those teams that made memories which will last a lifetime.
The Oakton High girls were the champions of the Concorde District and Northern Region championships. The Cougars, under Fred Priester, displayed their talent, grit and heart throughout the winter by going unbeaten in region play in both the regular season and playoffs. Incredibly, in a region tournament semifinals game against Mount Vernon at Robinson High, Oakton overcame an early 21-2 deficit to defeat the Majors, 47-39.
“You have to keep your cool because if one person freaks out [at being so far behind] then it’s kind of a team reaction,” said Oakton freshmen point guard Caroline Coyer, who scored a season-high 22 points in the victory.
Oakton also came from behind to defeat T.C. Williams, 74-66, in the region championship game after trailing by 11 in the first quarter. Coyer tallied 21 points to garner tourney MVP honors as the Cougars improved to 28-0. Other all-tournament selections for Oakton were senior leaders Erin McGartland and Brianna Johnson. Oakton went on to defeat Atlee (Mechanicsville) and Lake Taylor (Norfolk) in state playoff games before losing in the state finals, 71-61, to Princess Anne at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
<b>THE LIBERTY DISTRICT</b> had three girls’ teams that experienced vast success in Madison, South Lakes and Langley. Madison, under former Warhawks’ player and first-year head coach Kirsten Roberts, started the season 0-5 before putting things together. It entered the district tournament as the No. 4-seed but defeated McLean and top-seed South Lakes to reach the title game. There, the Warhawks defeated No. 2 Langley, 40-29, at South Lakes High School in Reston.
Madison senior Danielle Landry scored 11 points in the finals win and earned tourney MVP honors. Erin Kavanaugh, the other Warhawk player to make the all-tournament team, also tallied 11 points in the win over the Saxons.
Langley had shown great fortitude in getting as far as the district finals after starting the season 2-6. Like Madison, the Saxons came together big time following the slow start and went on to finish 15-10.Langley defeated regular season champion South Lakes two times in regular season district play. In the district tournament, Langley trailed No. 3 Woodson by eight points in the third quarter before rallying to win. Saxon senior forward Rachel Warrick scored 25 points in the semifinals win over the Cavaliers.
It marked the final season for Cheryl Buffo at the helm of the Langley program. Buffo, in 11 years, led the Saxons to six district finals. The title game loss to Madison hurt.
“Obviously, I was very happy for the kids that we got to the district finals,” she said. “It was very disappointing not to play our best in that game.”
South Lakes’ girls won the regular season district crown and went 19-4 on the season. The team’s best player was point guard Kelcyn Manurs, who earned District Player of the Year honors. The team’s coach, Christy Winters Scott, earned District Coach of the Year accolades. The Seahawks were upset by Madison in the district semifinals and fell to a tough South County team at regionals.
<b>ON THE BOYS’ SIDE</b>, Langley captured its second straight Liberty basketball crown with a district tournament finals win over top seed Woodson, 52-36. The Saxons, who struggled early in the season with a 2-4 record, won eight of their final nine regular season games, than continued to stay hot in the postseason with three straight wins to garner the district title. Senior guard Derek Baker earned tourney MVP honors.
McLean, with six starters back from its 2008 team that went 15-8, took the next step forward in 2009 and became champions of the Liberty District. Behind starting pitching aces Sean Fitzgerald and Denis Buckley, the Highlanders enjoyed a fabulous 16-4 season.
They captured the regular season district title before going on to win the district tournament as well. The Highlanders trailed defending district champion Stone Bridge, 5-0, in the championship game before rallying for an 11-8 win. A nine-run fourth inning - following a stern pep talk from head coach John Thomas - turned the game around in dramatic fashion. “I’ve got to credit coach Thomas,” said McLean catcher Erik Payne, one of just two seniors on the young roster. “He gave an incredible speech.”
<b>AT HERNDON HIGH</b>, longtime baseball coach Al McCullock elected to step down following the ’09 spring season. The popular skipper had been at the helm of the program for 17 years. His final game for the 8-11 Herndon ball club came in a first round Concorde District playoff loss to Robinson. During the season, the Herndon baseball diamond was re-named in McCullock’s honor.
Under the coach, Herndon captured four district titles and two Northern Region championships (1995 and ’96). His 2002 team finished 21-3. McCullock enjoyed coaching his ’09 Hornets’ team. “We had a good bunch of kids,” he said. “They worked hard and we were in every game.”
Madison High had its ups and downs in the fall of 2009. But in the end, the Warhawks were a pretty good football team and reached the Div. 5 Northern Region semifinals before losing to region power Stone Bridge.
Madison had stunned Stone Bridge, 28-14, during a regular season meeting between the Liberty District foes. It was the lone region loss of the season for the Bulldogs, who would go on to capture the Div. 5 region crown and ultimately reach the state AAA finals before losing to Phoebus.
Stone Bridge’s district loss to Madison was its first ever in the Liberty District, snapping the Bulldogs’ 31-game district win streak. For the Warhawks, the win was a dramatic turnaround for a Madison squad that, the week before, had suffered a deflating 21-14 loss to South Lakes on the weekend in which the Vienna school was celebrating both its homecoming and 50th year anniversary as a school.
The bounce-back win over Stone Bridge propelled Madison towards the playoffs, where the Warhawks defeated an always-tough Edison team before falling to the Bulldogs in the semifinals.
<b>TWO LIBERTY DISTRICT</b> teams - McLean and South Lakes - put together memorable turnaround football seasons in 2009. Both programs had experienced several years of losing in prior years. But their fortunes turned around last fall.
McLean had gone 0-10 in 2008 under first year coach Jim Patrick. But Patrick’s squad put things together in ’09, finishing with a winning record (6-5) and qualifying for the Div. 5 region playoffs where the Highlanders lost to Lee. Perhaps McLean’s biggest win of the season came on Sept. 25 when the Highlanders defeated Madison, 24-21, to improve to 3-1. Later in the season, McLean clinched a winning season with a 35-34 district overtime home win over rival Langley in the final week of the regular season.
South Lakes, meanwhile, began the season 5-1 but faltered over the second half of the season to finish 5-6. The Seahawks, a prolific offensive team behind star running back Ja’Juan Jones, did qualify for the Div. 5 region playoffs. The season’s highlight game was a 24-21 victory at Madison on the Warhawks’ homecoming. For coach John Ellenberger’s Seahawks, the five wins was their highest total in several years. “Our kids did a great job this year and were happy to make the playoffs,” said the coach.
The Langley High boys’ lacrosse team ran the table with a perfect 10-0 record in the postseason to win its first-ever state championship last spring. The Saxons defeated Madison for the Liberty District crown, Robinson in the Northern Region finals and Chantilly for the state title to finish 21-1 overall.
Alex Devlin’s overtime goal was the game-winner in the state championship game win over the Chargers in the contest played at Westfield High. The senior midfielder’s sizzling shot off the right side found the net and started a spontaneous on-field Saxon celebration as Chantilly, the ’08 state champions, looked on in disbelief.
“I love these players and I love this team,” said an emotional Earl Brewer, the program’s longtime head coach.
The Oakton girls, which had finished under .500 in 2008, became a Northern Region force under first-year head coach Brooke Alexander in the spring of 2009. The Cougars went 14-5 and qualified for the state AAA playoffs. Oakton was at its best during the region playoffs where it won its first two games to set up a semifinals meeting versus West Springfield High. There, in the game played at Robinson, the Cougars won on penalty kicks, the clincher coming on a PK off the foot of senior midfielder Christy Hassell, a team captain.
Oakton went on to lose a heart-breaker to Chantilly, 1-0, in the finals, but the Cougars had still reached vast heights by qualifying for states.
<b>MCLEAN’S GIRLS</b> were determined to garner a Liberty District crown in 2009. The year before, the Highlanders had reached the finals before falling to Madison. But last spring, McLean took that next step. It wasn’t easy for the Highlanders, who needed an overtime goal by Kristina Bettner to defeat Woodson, 2-1, in the title game. From there, McLean won region playoff games over Centreville and Lake Braddock before seeing its season end with a 4-2 semifinals loss to Chantilly in a game played at Robinson.
“A complete, total success,” said McLean coach Laura O’Brien, of her team’s 14-5 season. “We won the district championship and wanted to go as far as possible.”
Behind standout players Elysse Richardson and Kathryn Caine, the Langley girls reached the state playoffs for the second time in three years this past fall. The Saxons lost in the Liberty District finals to Stone Bridge but came back strong with Northern Region playoff wins over West Springfield, Hayfield and Robinson to reach the finals, where they lost to South County. Langley’s outstanding season ended with a setback to Loudoun Valley at states. The upset region semis win over Robinson was perhaps the highlight of the season for the Saxons.
“We just played so well against them,” said Langley coach Susan Shifflett. “We had to play one of our best matches to beat them.”
<b>OTHER GREAT TEAMS OF 2009</b>
How about the underdog Langley girls’ field hockey team which, as a No. 6 seed at the Liberty District tournament, upset No. 3 Marshall and No. 2 Madison to reach the finals where it gave top seed Fairfax all it could handle in a 1-0 loss. … McLean softball, behind ace pitcher Jamie Bell, captured the regular season Liberty District crown and ultimately defeated West Potomac in a region playoff game to reach the semifinals, where the Highlanders’ season ended with a setback to South County. Coach Maurice Tawil’s squad went 20-4 on the season. …The Oakton boys’ cross country team, under coach Phil Tiller, won its fifth straight Concorde District crown. The Cougars, led by standout runner Andrew McCullen, went on to successfully defend its region title as well. …Madison High golf finished second at both the region and state championships, finishing behind champion Westfield at both postseason tournaments. Madison, under coach Ted Savia, was led by standout Joe Moloney, who finished fifth overall at states. …South Lakes’ outdoor track and field team won the Liberty District and region crowns last spring. Vincent Brown led the way at regionals with three first place finishes. ..The Marshall girls’ tennis team won 12 straight matches during the spring season before losing to Woodson. The Statesmen received outstanding leadership from seniors Amanda Crider, Astrid Adam and Christina Nguyen. …Langley’s wrestling team, under coach John Belyea, captured its ninth straight district title last February. Three Saxons – David Helmer, Jay Ives and Anthony Kotoriy – won district crowns.