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Perfect So Far, Westfield Now Has Sights on Regionals

Starr Karl's Bulldogs ready to give it their all at 16-team tournament.

The Westfield High girls' field hockey team still has more to accomplish this season with the onset of the Northern Region tournament beginning this week. But with the regular season and Concorde District tournament now behind, it's pretty amazing to look at the Bulldogs' accomplishments thus far.

Legendary region coach Starr Karl — who led Fairfax High teams to region crowns in 1981 and 1992 and, later, did the same at Centreville High in 2000 and 2001 — has turned Westfield into a region and perhaps state power. Karl and her coaching staff, from the start of the season, have stressed fundamentals and crisp, smart passing. The staff has also emphasized the importance of a team-first mentality over individual accomplishments.

"It's in their grasps to get [a region title]," said Karl, who twice in the past has coached teams that entered the region playoffs with no losses. "I feel the coaching staff has given them the tools."

Westfield (18-0) defeated Centreville, 5-0, in a district tournament semifinals game last Wednesday, Oct. 6, then handled Oakton, 3-0, two days later in the championship game. Both games took place on Westfield's home field. The Bulldogs, in regular season meetings with those same teams, had been equally as dominant with a 3-0 home win over the Cougars on Oct. 1 and a 6-0 triumph over the visiting cross-town opponent Wildcats on Oct. 6.

Westfield has won 10 games by shutout this season, including the two district tourney victories. During one stretch earlier in the fall, the Bulldogs won four straight games — over Edison, T.C. Williams, Robinson and Yorktown — by shutouts. Later on, there was a three-game shutout stretch from Oct. 1 through Oct. 6 with district wins over Oakton, Herndon and Centreville.

Going into regionals, Westfield has outscored its opponents 68 (tops in the region) to 10. The most goals the Bulldogs gave up in a single game were three in a 4-3 Westfield win at Annandale on Sept. 21. Karl's team has won six games by a single goal - wins over Langley, 2-1, South County, 3-2, the Atoms, 4-3, Jefferson, 2-1, Chantilly, 2-1, and Fairfax, 2-1.

But Karl is grounded in the nature of sports enough to realize that an 18-0 record does not assure her team of region playoff success.

"On any given game you can have a bad game and a team can come down the field and score," she said. "In the Oakton and Centreville [district playoff games] we didn't play well until the second half. Then our team showed [their real selves] and when they turn it on they turn it on."

<b>THE BULLDOGS</b> were scheduled to play visiting McLean in a first round region tournament game this week on Wednesday, Oct. 27.

Coach Karl and Summer Vanni, the Highlanders' head coach, are quite familiar with each others' teams and coaching styles. Both are coaches, along with Andy Muir, the West Springfield High Director of Student activities, within the Rampage Travel Field Hockey League, a travel league organization that was put together several years ago by Karl.

"We coach together in the winter," said Karl.

Westfield and McLean played one another in an early season, 25-minute scoreless scrimmage at the Oakton High Jamboree. The Highlanders (11-8) recently lost at the Liberty District semifinals, 2-1, to top seeded Jefferson, which went on to fall in the finals to Fairfax High.

Karl's teams will always respect their opponents but not change up the way they play against any one team. That is the team's philosophy going into regionals.

"If we believe in each other and work hard in practice every day, they'll have success," said Karl, of her team.

The coach said her defense, which has been so terrific all season long, must continue to lead the way for the team at regionals.

"They in particular are playing real well," she said, of the Bulldogs' `D.' "I think we're real solid [defensively] right now. Our attacking [on offense] will come around."

<b>FOUR WESTFIELD PLAYERS</b> earned all-district tournament recognition — senior back Dana Vivirito, junior back/midfielder Abby Fallon, sophomore midfielder Meghan Winesett and senior forward Annie Martello, who was this year's district MVP for the season.

Coach Karl said her team became a closer unit through a day-long experience volunteering at the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure — a benefit for breast cancer awareness — in Washington, D.C. over Columbus Day Weekend. Members of the Westfield varsity and about half of the JV squad got up early Sunday morning and worked at the event for 13 hours.

"I didn't make them do it, they all wanted to," said Karl. "It's so important for [youngsters] to learn to give back to the community."

Throughout the month of October, Westfield, at home matches, wore white game jerseys with pink lettering to pay tribute to the cure for breast cancer cause.