When Andrea Romness, McLean High’s outstanding girls’ soccer midfielder, was asked by coaches earlier this spring what her expectations were for the Highlanders’ season ahead, she came back with an all or nothing reply.
"I said, ‘Win the state title, anything else will be a failure,’" said Romness, of her heart-felt reply.
On Saturday afternoon, June 11, McLean reached the pinnacle of high school team sports when the Highlanders, fueled by a brilliant late game comeback, stunned the Cox High Falcons (Virginia Beach), 3-2, in the Virginia State AAA championship game played at Westfield High School.
Trailing 2-1 following a Cox goal with just over 22 minutes remaining in the second half, McLean scored two times over the final 13 minutes — both scores coming from senior forward Melissa Downey – to defeat the Falcons and claim its first state crown in program history.
"We won [the finals game] because of our fight and heart," said Romness. "We gave it our all."
McLean (17-4-2), which earlier in the postseason had beaten Stone Bridge High for the Liberty District title but fell to W.T. Woodson, 1-0, at the Northern Region finals, won three straight games at states to bring home the ultimate state prize. Coach Rob Bouchard’s squad, over 10 playoff games this spring, went an outstanding 9-1, outscoring its postseason opponents, 29-10.
<b>THE HIGHLANDERS</b>, who a year ago saw their season end with a first round region playoff loss to Yorktown, reached the state finals contest versus Cox, the No. 2-seed from the Eastern Region, by getting wins over Chesapeake’s Grassfield High, the top seed from the Eastern Region, and Battlefield High (Haymarket), the top seed from the Northwestern Region. In the finals win over Cox, McLean played hard and well throughout against a talented Falcons’ team which seemed to have the Highlanders on the verge of losing. But McLean never wilted. Instead, over the final part of the contest after having fallen behind, the Highlanders were relentless and focused in their pursuit of coming back and winning.
The game-tying goal came as a result of a tenacious McLean offensive rush which resulted in Becca Latimer, a junior forward, getting brought down from behind by the Cox goalkeeper as she was attempting to corral the ball and get off a shot from the left side. The goalie contact resulted in a penalty.
Downey, a First Team All-Region selection this season, was the Highlander called upon to take the penalty kick. With McLean’s chances of tying the game resting solely on her shoulders, she came through with the equalizer score on a hard groundball shot which went into the right side of the Cox net to make the score 2-2 with 12 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the second half.
Romness, on the sequence that resulted in the successful PK, had set up the Highlander rush on the goal with a nice throw-in from the right sideline.
Cox fans in the nearside stadium bleachers were vocal and adamant in their view that officials had made a poor call on the penalty. But Latimer, in fact, had been knocked down in plain sight. The Cox goalie was given a yellow card on the play.
Downey capitalized with her clutch PK.
"I just didn’t want to think of everyone watching but I could feel the anxiety a little bit," said Downey, of the big moment pressure of having to convert the penalty kick. "It was just me and the goalie. I just had to roll it in."
Downey credited Latimer with being in position to bring about the penalty call.
"She drew that foul because of hard work," said Downey.
Latimer recalled getting the ball off a crossing pass and then going down.
"As I was shooting the goalie slid behind me," she said. "I’m so glad we got a penalty kick."
"I thought Becca really hustled to get that call, and Melissa had a great finish [on the PK]," said teammate Katie Yensen, a senior midfielder. "It was really necessary we get that goal. Everybody was tired and the heat was getting to us."
The game’s momentum was clearly in McLean’s favor after the successful penalty kick, and over the next several minutes the Highlanders continued to put the pressure on. Then, with just over five minutes remaining, McLean came up with the charge that led to the go-ahead and winning score.
McLean junior forward Rose Sommovigo started the rush with an upfield kick that got the ball to Downey down the right side of the field behind the defense. Downey then moved with the ball left to right across the field with two defensive players’ right behind her. She then, while still moving left, scooted a hard, straight-on shot from 25 yards out. The solidly struck ground ball kick, off her left foot, went into the right side of the net. Just like that, McLean led 3-2 with 5:02 left.
"I saw Rose," recalled Downey, of Sommovigo’s long kick that started the scoring chance. "I said ‘If I don’t score now, this could be our last chance.’ I wanted to finish it. I was just so happy [when the ball went in]. I was exhausted after that run, I didn’t have anything left."
"I knew I had to get the ball up there to her," said Sommovigo. "I played it up the line to Melissa. From there it was all her. I had confidence in her. She always makes those."
McLean held off Cox over the remaining five minutes to secure the lead and the state championship win.
"I’m so proud of everyone," said Latimer. "We played great."
<b>MCLEAN HAD FALLEN</b> behind, 1-0, less than five minutes into the start of the game. But five minutes later, the Highlanders made a clear early game statement that they meant business when senior forward Jordan Walker, off a crossing pass from the left by Yensen, scored from 10 yards out to tie the contest at 1-1 with 29:51 showing on the clock.
"I got the ball on a throw-in and beat a defender with a little move," said Yensen, of the scoring play. "And then I crossed it back to Jordan. She had a great shot. That goal was huge because it gave us motivation and momentum."
The score would remain the same up to the half and through the first 18 minutes of the second half before Cox would regain the lead. But the Highlanders, on this day, would not be denied and went on to get the two late goals to gain the hard-fought victory.
McLean, following its 1-0 region finals loss to Woodson at Madison High School on June 3, never gave up the belief that it could still win a state title.
"Losing in the region finals is definitely the game to lose because it doesn’t mean the season is over," said Romness. "We didn’t play that well. It was a wake-up call."
The Highlanders bounced back from the loss to the Cavaliers by getting the state playoff wins over Grassfield, 5-2, and Battlefield, 1-0. The lone goal in the semifinals win over Battlefield came from Downey.
"In the region finals we didn’t play our best, but at the state tournament we got it back," said Yensen. "We knew we had the talent to make it [to the state finals]."
"It’s really rewarding," said Sommovigo, of being part of a state title winning team. "Our seniors have brought this team so far in their four years."