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McLean Field Hockey Team Shocks Saints

Vanni’s Highlanders are playing solid across the board.

In an incredible week for the McLean High girls’ field hockey team, the Highlanders won overtime games over private school power St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School (Alexandria) on Tuesday, Sept. 14, as well as local Liberty District rival Madison on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

Going into this week, the Highlanders carried an impressive 8-3 overall record.

“We have 11 good players on the field who really trust each other, as opposed to a few superstars who contribute a majority of the time,” said McLean head coach Summer Vanni, of her squad.

Vanni, ironically, was not able to be at either of last week’s games as a result of having minor surgery. She was extremely proud of her team’s success in the wins over the Saints and the Warhawks, and credited both her players and assistant coaches.

“The girls pulled off the wins with my assistant coaches,” said Vanni, who will return to the sidelines this Wednesday evening, Sept. 22 when the Highlanders travel to South County Secondary to meet the Stallions in a non-district game. “I was very proud, of course, that they were able to win, despite my absence. They said, of course, that they won for me.”

In the Tuesday game, McLean pulled off a stunning, come-from-behind, 3-2 upset win over St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes. The Highlanders dominated play throughout the first half, but were unable to finish numerous chances in a contest that was scoreless at halftime. At the beginning of the second half, the Saints took charge and quickly scored two goals. The Highlanders called a timeout to re-group.

With 10 minutes remaining in regulation play, McLean’s Charlotte Parkhurst scored a goal to pull the Highlanders within 2-1. And shortly after that, with only a few minutes remaining, Jordan Walker tied the game at 2-2 with a goal. That put the game into a seven versus seven, 15 minute sudden death overtime session.

The Saints, in the OT, tried to aggressively run down the field, but the Highlander defense of Mary D’Alesandro, Alison Wilhelm and goalie Malalai Nawabi (6 saves) ended those efforts. With attacking speed coming from Walker, Kristina Bettner, Kristen Ahearn, Tina Anwyll, and Leandi Venter, the Highlanders quickly put the pressure on the Saints. At the ninth minute of overtime, a long run by Walker and Bettner ended with Walker beating the goalie and ending the game with a score.

McLean, for the game, earned 14 offensive corners to St Stephens’ three.

The following day saw McLean win an exciting 4-3 decision over district rival Madison. The Highlanders received two goals from Leandi Venter and one apiece from Tina Antwyll and Jordan Walker in the triumph. Goalie Malalai Nawabi, meanwhile, had 10 saves.

<b>MCLEAN OPENED</b> the season on Aug. 26 with a 4-1 home loss to perennial Northern Region power Lake Braddock. But the Highlanders came back strong with a strong showing at the early season Virginia Beach Sundevil Tournament where they won three of four games and finished second place overall in a field of 16 teams.

McLean reached the Sundevil tournament finals by defeating region opponent W.T. Woodson, 3-1. Then, in the finals, the Highlanders lost a tough 1-0 game to Lakeland High (Suffolk).

“We had great success at the beginning of the season at the Sundevil Virginia Beach Tournament,” said Vanni. “We have a lot of depth and experience with our starters this year.”

Other wins this season have come over visiting opponents Wakefield, 11-0, and Herndon, 4-0.

The Highlanders have a good mix of older and younger players within their program. Juniors Becca Latimer (forward) and Leandi Venter (midfield) are both third year varsity lettermen. McLean starts eight juniors and three seniors.

McLean is fielding a freshmen squad this season, along with the varsity and JV teams. Having a ninth grade team will add more depth to the program and give the Highlanders a building foundation for the future.

“I think the addition of our freshman team has created more competition within the program itself,” said Vanni.

One of the keys to McLean’s varsity success has been its stellar defensive play. The Highlanders have allowed just 12 goals over 11 games. Vanni credited assistant coaches Brooke McKean and Marcus Smith with directing the successful defensive unit.

The Highlanders’ offense has found the net 31 times this season.

“Our offense is strong like it always has been and the girls click on their passing and seem to be playing with a lot more maturity than in previous years,” said Vanni.

The coach is ever optimistic at her team’s chances to make a strong run in the district and regional playoffs later this season.

“I always `hope’ this is our year,” she said. “But this year, I am thinking it might be.”

McLean’s next home game is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 29 at 4 versus Marshall.