Soccer teams battled the elements and the prospects of seeing their seasons end during a girls'-boys' double-header evening of Liberty District tournament action this past Monday night, May 17 at McLean High School.
At the conclusion of a rain, soaked night, it was the two McLean Highlander teams which had come out with the first round playoff victories. In the evening's opening contest, the McLean girls' team rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat a determined Langley squad, 4-1. Then, in the following boys' game, the home team Highlanders put the defensive clamps on opponent Fairfax in a 3-0 McLean triumph.
Light rain fell throughout the opening girls' game. But by the second game of the night, the rain had picked up to a steady level making field conditions particularly difficult for the McLean and Fairfax boys. But McLean's well-cared for grass field, with the help of some added dirt spread out in various spots by McLean High athletic administrators during halftime of the boys' game, held up quite well overall.
"Playing in the rain obviously makes things more difficult. The ball will skip on you," said McLean boys' senior defender Drew Hunt, a Highlander team captain. "But I still love playing in the rain."
The wet, sloppy playing conditions hardly dampened the enthusiasm displayed by players in both games. With seasons on the line, teams adopted a now or never attitude to the contests with players from all of the teams giving their best, poor playing conditions or not.
In the girls' game, which opened the evening, the underdog and No. 6-seeded Langley team, coached by Gretchen Hamm, gave defending district champion McLean all it could handle. A first half goal by Langley's Amanda Digiammarino, who scored from close range five minutes into the start of the contest, was all of the game's scoring over the first 40 minutes of play. So going into the halftime, Langley, which a couple weeks earlier had lost to the same Highlanders, 4-0, in a late season game at McLean, was a confident, excited team with high hopes of upsetting the No. 3-seed Highlanders.
Digiammarino's early goal had certainly given Langley a spark. A free kick by junior midfielder Meredith Doherty had placed the ball in the goal box area where Digiammarino, a senior forward, gained possession before getting off a shot from straight on. The McLean goalie, senior Logan Tapscott, charged Digiammarino as she was preparing to shoot and appeared to deflect the ball, which was slowed down considerably but still had enough movement to barely cross the goal line for the score and a 1-0 Saxons' lead.
While McLean would pressure the Langley defense over the course of the first half, the Highlanders could never find the net and went into the intermission trailing.
"One of our goals [going in] was to score early in the game," said Langley senior defender Brooke Gallagher, a Saxon team captain. "We wanted to put them on their heels."
Tiffany Washington, the Highlanders' first year head coach, knew Langley would come out hard and determined in the playoff affair.
"Teams always come back harder the second time you play them," said Washington, who prior to the playoff game had exhorted her squad not to take Langley lightly based on the ease of the Highlanders' regular season win over the Saxons. "At halftime [of the playoff game] I told them they had to play harder and step it up. Langley came out tonight fired up and I knew that would happen."
But McLean has too talented a team offensively to hold down for an entire game. Sure enough, the Highlanders broke through, scoring three times within the first 12 minutes of the second half.
Less than 4 minutes into second half play, the Highlanders tied the game when, in the sequence following a corner kick by Katie Yensen, junior midfielder Kristina Bettner scored on a rebound follow-up shot off the left side following a teammates' hard blast off the crossbar.
Less than 10 minutes after that, McLean scored again on a gorgeous, straight-on shot from 25-yards out by junior midfielder Andie Romness. On the score, Romness possessed the ball before quickly spinning and shooting.
"I got the ball on my left foot and a [Langley player] was there," said Romness, of her score which gave McLean the lead at 2-1. "I spun right and shot with my left foot. Right when I hit it I knew it was in. I didn't even watch it go in."
McLean scored again five minutes later on a penalty kick by junior Melissa Downey, who sent a liner high into the right side of the Langley net. The penalty shot came as a result of McLean's Bettner being tripped up in the scoring box area.
Langley, trailing 3-1, continued to play hard thereafter, but could not find the net. McLean's final goal came in the closing seconds of the game.
"They just kept attacking and attacking," said Langley's Gallagher, of McLean's strong second half. "When they came out and got that first goal real quick, we got a little scared."
Langley saw its season end at 5-8-1.
"Later in the season we put a bunch of good efforts together and played as a team," said Gallagher. "We tried to give it our all."
McLean (8-4-1) was scheduled to play No. 2-seed Madison in a district semifinals match on Wednesday of this week, May 19, at Fairfax High School.
<b>THE MCLEAN BOYS</b>, in the evening's second game, scored three first half goals on way to their 3-0 win over Fairfax. Hard, steady rain fell throughout the contest.
A loss for the No. 3-seed Highlanders (10-2-2) would have been a difficult way to end what has been an outstanding season for coach Mike Anderson's team. McLean was not about to let that happen and played with passion and heart throughout the night.
"It's one game [with the season on the line] and you have to stay focused," said McLean senior midfielder Pablo Chovil, of the potential season-ending quarterfinals game. "It's a lot of pressure if you let it get to you."
The Highlanders did not let the pressure get to them. They came out determined to possess the ball and to pressure the Fairfax net. While all three of McLean's goals came in the first half, the Highlanders had numerous second half chances to score as well and played a majority of the second 40 minutes around the Rebels' end of the field.
While Fairfax played hard, it was McLean, which pretty much dominated the action. McLean broke a scoreless tie 11 minutes into the game on a head-in shot off the left side by senior forward Kevin Pyne. The scoring sequence was started by Matt Janssen on a throw-in from the right sideline near the corner flag. His throw-in went to teammate Drew Hunt, who headed the ball left towards the goal area. There, Pyne put the ball into the net for a 1-0 McLean lead.
Ten minutes later, McLean went ahead 2-0 when a Fairfax player inadvertently kicked the ball into his team's own goal.
Late in the half, McLean went ahead 3-0 when Tim Whitebread , after breaking free with the ball, sent a scorching grounder into the net from 16 yards away with three minutes, 34 seconds left to play in the opening half.
The Highlanders were well on their way to a rain-soaked win.
"It's a great feeling to move on," said Chovil. "Fairfax definitely was not an easy team. They're tough and fast."
McLean will next meet No. 2-seed Stone Bridge in a semifinals game on Wednesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. The contest will be played at Stone Bridge High in Ashburn.