0
Votes

It's Cougars All the Way

Oakton girls lacrosse, in return trip to state finals, finishes deal.

Oakton Cougars players, including senior attack Carly Palmucci (18), hold up the state championship trophy during postgame festivities. Palmucci had two goals and two assists in the victory.

Oakton Cougars players, including senior attack Carly Palmucci (18), hold up the state championship trophy during postgame festivities. Palmucci had two goals and two assists in the victory. Photo by Craig Sterbutzel.

— A year after losing in the state title game, the Oakton High girls' lacrosse team took the next step and won this year's state crown when the Cougars defeated Langley High, 12-7, in the finals game played last Saturday evening, June 9 at Westfield High School.

It marked the fourth state championship triumph in the history of the Oakton girls' lacrosse program and came one year after the Cougars had reached the state title game before losing to Vienna cross-town rival Madison.

This time, however, Oakton prevailed, against a Langley squad which was making its first-ever state finals appearance. In the championship game match-up between the two Northern Region teams, the Cougars, who finished the season with an overall record of 18-2, jumped in front 3-0 and never relinquished the lead thereafter.

"Last year we were denied pretty badly, losing by eight or nine," said Oakton head coach Jean Counts, recalling the 2011 state finals loss to Madison.

This season, Oakton has the taste of being on the winning side of the state finals game.

"We worked so hard for this - 70 practices, we count them," said Oakton senior goalie Emily George, with a huge smile, in the moments following the Cougars' victory. "It feels amazing. We didn't get it last year so we worked hard to get it this year. This is what we've been working for."

Counts, in the championship affair with the Saxons, saw her team play a solid, overall strong game in which the Cougars' played suffocating defense while, on the offensive end, running when they could and displaying good passing, ball movement, and patience. Oakton dominated in time of possession throughout the game. Six different Oakton players score goals, with sophomore midfielder Jackie Rupp, celebrating her birthday, leading the way with four of those scores. George, in the net, played a typically solid game with her Cougars' teammates in front of her doing a thorough job of keeping the Saxons at bay.

"I felt great - like my defense had my back," said George, of her play and mindset during the championship game.

OVER THE GAME'S first eight-plus minutes, Oakton gained the early momentum with three goals, the first two coming from Rupp. Her close range score of a drive from the left side opened the game's scoring with 22 minutes, 23 seconds showing on the clock. A few minutes later, Rupp, on another Oakton possession, gained open space with a nice move before moving to her right and scoring on a sizzling bouncer shot from 10 yards out at 19:21 to make it 2-0.

"Jackie is our coast to coast girl and plays full tilt the entire game," said Counts, with a smile. "She's really done a great job for us."

The Oakton lead went to 3-0 on a line drive shot from 10 yards off the right wing by senior midfielder Alex Revel (2 goals in the win).

Langley gained momentum over the next three minutes with scores from Kelly Martins and Olivia Sisson, the latter goal coming off a fastbreak to get the Saxons within 3-2 with 13:28 remaining in the first half.

Following a timeout, Oakton came out firing but saw two outstanding close range scoring chances turned away on nice stops from Langley goalie Erin Long. However, the Cougars broke through several minutes later when sophomore attack Tori Anderson, after taking the ball down the left side of the field, made a nifty turn-around move to create space from a defender before flinging a liner in from 18 yards out to five Oakton a 4-2 lead with 7:45 left.

George, the Oakton goalie, came up with one of the game’s key plays a minute later when she blocked a penalty shot on goal by Saxon Margo Swomley. That led to Cougars’ possession of the ball and an ensuing Oakton score moments later when senior Claire Stikeleather (2 goals), moving left to right with the ball across the Langley goal area, roped a hard overhand shot in from 12 yards out to give Langley a 5-2 advantage.

Both teams would score again before the end of the half, the final score coming from Rupp with 3:42 left to make it 6-3 Oakton. The Cougars, following Rupp's score, gained possession again on the face-off and worked three minutes off the clock. Langley, following a Cougar turnover, did make a good scoring try in the final seconds of the half but George stopped a Kelly Martins close range scoring attempt off the left side in the final seconds.

OAKTON scored three of the second half's first four goals, conversions from Rupp, Revel, and Stikeleather, to surge ahead 9-4. Stikeleather's score came off a penalty shot around the top of the circle with 18:12 left.

Langley showed its resiliency with a couple of scores over the following minute to get within 9-6. The Saxons looked as if they might score again off a fastbreak a few minutes later, but goalie George made a nice save to prevent a score and keep Oakton ahead by three.

The Cougars, over the following seven minutes, effectively put the game away with three goals, two coming from senior attack Carly Palmucci. Also scoring during the key stretch was senior attack Allison Turk, who scored from six yards out off a Palmucci pass from behind the net.

Langley, down 12-6, scored with five seconds remaining for the game's final goal.

"We were very patent on offense," said Counts, who added that slowing the pace down is not necessarily her team's style. "We spread it out and were careful about taking good shots."

Langley, which qualified for states last year for the first time, was making its first appearance in the finals.

"Oakton is a great team and we knew that," said Langley's Kelly Martins, a senior midfielder and a Saxon team captain. "We competed and gave it our all."