To label any sports teams’ season "perfect" might be inaccurate because of the nature of games, which include such un-perfect characteristics as penalties, turnovers, shifts in momentum, injuries, poor on-field decisions by athletes and coaching mistakes. But if one focuses on bottom line results — wins and championships — and team make-up — playing for one another — perhaps some teams can experience at least near perfection.
However one wants to qualify "perfect," the Madison High girls’ lacrosse team would have to be in the conversation. The Warhawks , on Saturday evening, June 11, completed their season with a brilliant flourish, defeating Vienna cross-town opponent Oakton High, 20-11, in the championship game of the Virginia state tournament. With the victory, the biggest in the history of the program, the Warhawks concluded their remarkable spring of 2011 season with a perfect 22-0 record. The 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went a perfect 17-0 and were Super Bowl VII champions over the Redskins, would be proud.
"We owe a lot to how well we get along off the field, and that translates onto the field," said Madison junior midfielder/attack player Julia Kehoe, of the Warhawks’ team chemistry that has factored into the team’s success. "We capitalize on each others’ strengths and know how to go out there and play with each other."
The finals contest, which took place at Westfield High School, marked the third time Madison and Oakton (17-7) played one another this season. The Warhawks had also won the first two meetings, a 23-15 regular season home win over the Cougars on April 27, and a 23-14 triumph on May 26 in the Northern Region title game at Robinson Secondary.
In some ways, the state title game was similar to those earlier contests in that Madison was able to score at least 20 goals in all three meetings while Oakton, while never particularly close to defeating the Warhawks, gave a good account of itself and did not show poorly.
"Oakton is good and it was obviously tough to play them [in the state finals] because we played them two times before," said Kehoe, who, at game’s end on Saturday, had just received a pass at the Oakton end of the field when the final horn blew, sparking a team celebratory pile-up at around midfield. "There is definitely a lot of competition between the two teams and there are some family ties."
Many of the girls from both teams grew up in Vienna playing one another in lacrosse or other sports. And the team’s respective coaches — Madison’s Amanda Counts and Oakton’s Jean Counts — are sisters-in-law.
"Beating Oakton is bitter-sweet," said Amanda Counts, the Warhawks’ head coach. "I’m happy Oakton got this far."
<b>MADISON’S POWERFUL</b> offense, which scored 20 or more goals in 10 games this season and never less than 13, continued its precision-like, spectacular play in the state title win. The Warhawks burst out to a 5-0 lead in the game’s first five-plus minutes and never were really in jeopardy of losing thereafter. Madison held an 11-5 halftime advantage and still led, 16-9, at the midway point through the second half. From there onward, Madison outscored the Cougars, four goals to two.
Ten different Madison players scored goals in the win.
"We have depth on our offense that I don’t know has been matched in other programs," said Amanda Counts. "We’ve had a long list of girls who can score at will. Our freshmen and sophomore [players’] stick skills are amazing."
Jean Counts, the Oakton coach, added of Madison, "Their girls want to score. They catch, score and are very aggressive."
Madison’s top scorers in the championship game win were junior Dana Beden (3 goals), sophomore Melissa Kellan (3 goals, 4 assists), and freshmen Katie Kerrigan (3 goals). Two-goal games in the Warhawks’ balanced attack came from Allison Hahn (3 assists), Kehoe (1 assist), sophomore Carly Frederick, and freshmen Sam Babbitt. Also contributing goals for Madison were junior Megan Bisson (1 assist) and Brie Hayden, and freshmen Alex Condon (2 assists). Taylor Rivera-Silva played another strong game in the net for the Warhawks.
Oakton had big games from junior Carly Palmucci (5 goals, 1 assist) and junior Jackie Rupp (4 goals). Alex Revel added two scores while junior Claire Stikeleather (1 assist) and senior Rachel Kuykendall both scored one.
Jean Counts said her team played Madison better defensively than it had in the region finals game.
"We did a better job defensively, which is nice," she said. "But we didn’t capitalize on our shots. We had missed shots, turnovers, and shots that hit the post. That was rough. I’m real proud of the girls for pushing and fighting to stay in the game."
Counts said the solidifier on the Madison team is Hahn, a midfielder and this year’s Region Player of the Year.
"Allison Hahn is there ‘rock,’ said the Oakton coach. "She’s not scoring all their goals or assisting, but she’s setting things up. She’s so consistent and strong."
Kellan, Madison’s versatile player who has seen action playing in different positions all across the field this season, said the Warhawks never got caught up in being undefeated even as the season moved on and the wins continued to increase.
Instead, the focus was always on team play and utilizing one another’s skills.
"I don’t think it ever really crosses our minds until after games," said Kellan. "We play really well as a team. It’s a dream to be with this group of people. We’re so close on and off the field."
Madison won three games in Amanda Counts’ first season as the Warhawks’ head coach in 2007. That was followed by six wins in 2008, 18 in 2009, and 19 last year when the Warhawks also qualified for states.
"All five years I’ve been at Madison it’s been a collected effort each year," said Counts.