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Highlanders’ Halt Westfield’s Win Streak, Season

McLean field hockey eliminates powerful Bulldogs in opening round of regionals.

For the Westfield High girls’ field hockey team, `losing’ had not been in the squad’s vocabulary this entire fall season. The Bulldogs, under legendary Northern Region head coach Starr Karl, were a perfect 16-0 through an unbeaten regular season before winning both of their contests, including a finals win over Oakton, at last week’s Concorde District tournament. There seemed to be no beating the Bulldogs.

But Westfield’s season came to an abrupt ending last Wednesday, Oct. 27 when the Bulldogs, the No. 1 seed from the Concorde, fell to the McLean Highlanders, the No. 4-seed of the Liberty District, by a 2-1 score in overtime in a first round game of the 16-team Northern Region tournament. The postseason meeting took place at Westfield High School.

The upset victory by the underdog McLean team, under head coach Summer Vanni, advanced the Highlanders to a region quarterfinals playoff meeting against W.T. Woodson earlier this week on Monday, Nov. 1 at West Springfield High School. Meanwhile, Westfield, with the first round playoff loss, saw its outstanding season come to an end without the fulfillment of making a strong run at regionals or realizing its hopes of a Virginia State playoff bid. The Bulldogs concluded the season with an 18-1 record.

McLean, which a week ago had beaten Langley in a first round Liberty District tournament game before losing to top seeded Jefferson in the semifinals, received goals in the triumph over Westfield from freshman Stephanie Noll and junior midfielder Kristen Ahearn. Senior forward Kristina Bettner, who a couple of weeks ago was crowned McLean High’s 2010 Homecoming Queen, had an assist in the win and Highlander junior goalie Malalai Nawabi kept the talented Westfield offense at bay with 10 saves.

<b>MCLEAN ELIMINATED</b> a Westfield team that believed it had plenty more to accomplish this season. In her first season at the helm of Westfield, Coach 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 – had turned the Bulldogs into a region, and perhaps state power, this autumn season. Karl and her coaching staff, from the start of the season, stressed fundamentals, along with crisp, smart passing. The staff 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 had coached teams that entered the region playoffs with no losses, last week. “I feel the coaching staff has given them the tools.”

Westfield 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.

McLean was going up against a Westfield team that had 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.

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 had 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 did 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>KARL AND VANNI</b>, 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.

Westfield and McLean had played one another in an early season, 25-minute scoreless scrimmage at the Oakton High Jamboree. The Highlanders (12-8), last week, lost their Liberty District semifinals game, 2-1, to Jefferson, which went on to fall in the finals to Fairfax High.

Karl, prior to regionals, said her defense, which was so terrific all season long, had to continue to lead the way for the team at regionals. And the Bulldogs did hold McLean for the most part – but not enough as the Highlanders found the back of the box twice, including the overtime score.

As a result, it was McLean moving on with the hopes of great things over the next week or so while Westfield saw its incredible season end a little too soon.

The McLean-Woodson winner was scheduled to move on to a semifinals game versus the South County/Fairfax winner on Wednesday night, Nov. 3 of this week at 7:30. That contest will be the second of two semifinals games taking place at Washington-Lee High in Arlington. The region title game is slated for Thursday night, Nov. 4 at 7 at Washington-Lee.