It's as if winning has become second nature for the Chantilly High girls' lacrosse team this season. That was certainly the case during the regular season where the Chargers went a perfect 16-0 and finished first in the Concorde District standings.
And this past Monday, May 9, Chantilly added a postseason victory to its spring resume when it held off a determined and persevering Robinson Secondary team, 15-11, in a district tournament semifinals playoff contest played on a brilliant spring evening at Chantilly.
Chantilly, which earned a first round tournament bye as a result of its top seeding, was scheduled to meet No. 3 seed Oakton in the district title game on Thursday, May 12 at 5:30. The finals contest will take place at Chantilly. Oakton reached the championship game by defeating No. 2 Westfield in another semifinals game on Monday.
The top four district tournament finishers - Chantilly, Oakton, Robinson, and Westfield - each will compete at next week's 16-team Northern Region tournament.
Chantilly, now 17-0, has good talent, a solid work ethic in practices and games, and a winner's mindset. All of those qualities have made the Chargers one tough team to beat.
"We never lose," said senior midfielder Sonia Wang, not intending to sound boastful of her club's accomplishment, just matter-of-fact. "So teams come out fired up and really trying to beat us."
Robinson (7-6), which lost its regular season meeting at Chantilly, 11-8, on April 6, has shown good improvement this season after last year's 4-9 record. While not overpowering - the Rams were 2-3 in regular season district games - they play all out and don't seem to get discouraged when they fall behind. Throughout a good portion of Monday's semifinals against the Chargers, Robinson, while never having a lead, stayed with the elite Chantilly team much of the game.
<b>ROBINSON</b> trailed just 5-3 at halftime and got within 5-4 early in the second half on a catch-and-shoot, close range goal by Campbell Collier, who, for the game, scored six goals to lead the Rams. But Chantilly scored the game's next five goals, two of those scores coming from Wang, to build up a nice 10-4 advantage with less than 17 minutes remaining.
The Rams hung tough, scoring four of the game's next six goals, two apiece from Collier and Katie McHugh, to stay within striking distance at 12-8 with just over five minutes left. The Chargers curbed the Rams' late game momentum with goals from Wang and Maddie Wallace to take a fairly commanding 14-8 lead. Collier answered with consecutive scores to get the guests within 14-10 with 90 seconds still to play. It was a gallant effort by Robinson that got no closer and fell by the 15-11 outcome.
"There are so many good things they do," said Robinson coach Sally Collier, of her Rams. "They fought hard to the last second of the game. I feel like we're right on the verge of winning a game like that."
Perhaps the Rams will get such a win at regionals. Coach Collier said her squad has progressively improved throughout the season and gotten better at executing the game's fundamentals, such as throwing and catching, curtailing loose balls, and moving well on defense. Robinson, during the regular season, did not lose a district game by more than three goals.
Along with Campbell Collier's six goals on Monday, the Rams also got three scores from McHugh and one each from Alexis Mooney and Austin Courtney.
Chantilly's top scorer in the win was Kacey Norwood, who scored six times. Wang also came up big with four goals. Also scoring for the Chargers were Christina Gonzalez, Shannon Strittmater, Wallace, Kylie Chaplin, and Brooke Fitzgerald. Liz Graviano played a terrific game in the net for the Chargers.
Coach Collier said the Rams, while getting some good scoring chances against Chantilly, had a difficult time in beating goalie Graviano, a First Team All-District selection at the position. Time and time throughout the game, Graviano, although not perfect in the net, made sparkling saves to keep the game's momentum in Chantilly's favor.
"She is a great goalie," said Collier, of the Chantilly junior. "She was the goalie of the year for the Concorde District. She has a lot of respect from our team and the other coaches in the Concorde District."
Graviano, Chantilly's first year varsity starter in the net, has played virtually every minute of every game at the position this spring. The Rams gave her a good workout on Monday.
"It was nerve-wracking," she said, of going up against a good team in such a big game. "A lot of times their girls got through [for good opportunities]. But I love playing goalie. I'm not very fast but have good reflexes."
Said Chantilly coach Tina Plaugher, "She's very focused and has very good reactions and good placement and instincts."
Graviano, the Chargers' JV goalie last year, said Chantilly has good team chemistry and that the players play for each other and as a unit. Several of the Chargers play together on a club team called Future Elite.
"We all get along well," said Graviano. Then, with a smile, she added, "Seniors will talk to the freshmen. A lot of us play club team in the summer, so we have that chemistry."
<b>PLAUGHER</b>, a former head coach at Marshall High who is in her first season at Chantilly, liked her team's aggressive approach offensively against Robinson. There were times when the Chargers would set up their offense and work the ball around patiently for a good opportunity.
When there was a scoring chance, Chantilly went hard to the goal area for shots.
"I felt we knew when to drive to the goal and took the opportunities when we had it," said Plaugher.
The coach said her team's offense has benefited greatly from a defense that consistently makes stops and creates transition scoring opportunities.
"I think our defense has been huge in allowing our attack to gain momentum and gain a tempo," she said.
While Chantilly did get its share of scoring chances and goals in the playoff win over Robinson, nothing came easily against the Rams and their goaltender, Cassie Raithel, who, like her counterpart on the other end of the field, made some spectacular saves on some straight-on, sizzling shots on the net.
Both Chantilly and Robinson have more postseason play ahead of them with the Chargers having reached the district finals and both teams looking forward to regionals. Plaugher said her Chargers have not overly focused on being unbeaten.
"We are focused on the next game, not on what our record is," she said. "We look at how we can play the best we can every game."