Herndon’s bid for its first Concorde District boys’ soccer title since 2008 fell short last Friday evening, May 20 when the Hornets lost to a red hot Oakton High squad, 3-0, in the district tournament title game played at Westfield High School.
The loss was the first of the season for top-seeded Herndon (13-1-1), which just 10 days earlier had beaten Oakton, 2-1, in a late regular season district road game. The Cougars, who have enjoyed their first winning season in at least five years, improved their record to 10-3-1 overall and captured their first district tournament crown since 2001. Oakton is coached by Todd Spitalny.
Both teams are competing at this week’s 16-team Northern Region tournament.
Herndon has emerged as one of the top teams in the region this season under veteran head coach Sean Lanigan. But in the championship game, Oakton, which a year ago went 6-8-1 and lost to Lake Braddock in a first round region playoff game, scored all three of its goals within a 17 minute period of play in the first half to take total command of the game by halftime. While Herndon made strong rush after strong rush towards Oakton’s goal in the second half, the Hornets were not able to find pay dirt as Oakton goalie Logan Cropper continually had answers for Herndon strikes.
There were times, in fact, when the junior net-minder was flat out brilliant in his protection of his team’s net.
“That was the first team to keep us shut out all year,” said Lanigan, whose team’s only prior non-win this season came in a 2-2 tie versus visiting non-district opponent and fellow region power Langley in the Hornets’ final regular season game on May 11. “Their goalie made some great saves and their backs did a good job.”
Cropper came up with perhaps the games’ best sequence of plays just past the midway point of the second half as Herndon, trailing 3-0 and trying desperately to get back into the game, got off two sizzling shots, both stopped on diving saves by the goalie. The latter stop came on a straight-range, follow-up scorcher from 10 yards out.
“That was great,” said Oakton senior forward Bubba Delgado, a team tri-captain along with fellow captains Ahmed Ismail and Charlie Ahn. “I was surprised he got that second one.”
<b>OAKTON’S FIRST HALF</b> goals came from sophomore midfielder Patrick Moore and Ahn, a senior midfielder who scored two times.
Moore, less than 16 minutes into the game, broke a scoreless tie when, from 25-yards out and just right of the top of the circle, he sent a high, crossing liner which landed high in the left side of the net to make it 1-0.
Less than eight minutes later, Oakton set up for a free kick, from near the top of the circle. Herndon players had formed a wall to hinder the Cougars’ chances of getting off a good chance. But Delgado, who was set to take the free kick, called timeout and informed officials that the Herndon players forming the wall were less than the required 10 yards away from him. Officials agreed and the Herndon group of players was forced to fall back a few more yards.
Delgado then scooted a short pass to his right to Ahn, who, with his right foot, shot and scored from 20 yards out. Just like that, the score was 2-0 Oakton.
“I was trying to play the ball to his dominant [right] foot as far away from [the defense] as possible,” said Delgado, of his team’s second goal of the game. “He took advantage of it.”
“I knew it was going in,” said Ahn, of his shot on the net.
Later in the first half, it was Ahn who came up big once again, taking a pass from Delgado and putting the ball into the net off a short break-away from the left side with 7 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the opening half.
Herndon, by halftime, faced a daunting uphill battle trailing 3-0.
“I told them at halftime we were going to play 80 minutes and not put our heads down,” said Lanigan.
But as much pressure as Herndon applied over the final 40 minutes, the Hornets just could not get that one goal to get their momentum going.
“Overall, we can play with anybody,” said Lanigan. “Everybody has an off day. We had an off day shooting. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders and they were. If we got one [goal] we might have broken out.”
“Herndon brought it,” said Delgado, of the Hornets’ constant second half pressure. “They didn’t want to lose that game.”
Ahn, Oakton’s standout midfielder, said the Cougars were highly motivated to beat Herndon not only to gain the district title but to also avenge its recent regular season loss to the Hornets.
“In the regular season we had lost to them 2-1,” he said. “We kind of wanted to prove to them we could play.”
Many of the Oakton players, following the 5 p.m. championship game, were set to enjoy that night’s school prom. Winning made the night that much more special.
“It is a great feeling – a district championship and prom day,” said Ahn. “It can’t get better than that.”
Herndon, meanwhile, was a little down but hardly out. The Hornets were putting their focus on regionals.
“We’re excited and think we have a good chance going into the region tournament,” said Lanigan. “We’ll take this loss in stride. We’re disappointed and hurting, but at the end of the day we’re still contenders.”
<b>HERNDON MADE</b> quite a splash in All-Concorde District postseason honors as Lanigan was named the District Coach of the Year and Patrick McLaughlin was named District Player of the Year. Other Hornets to earn All-District accolades were: Salah Warid, Bryant Fernandez, Dominic Gallelli, Alex Bednarek, Sam Eaddy, Raleigh McKenzie, Jack Clarke, and Peter Sullivan. Honorable Mention All-District awards went to Carlos Vasquez, Carlos Mendoza, and Brian Parodi.