Herndon The long term season plan for the Herndon High boys' soccer team was to ultimately be playing its best by the postseason. The Hornets could not have fulfilled that mission any more successfully than they did at last week's Concorde District tournament where, as the No. 3-seed, they won all three of their games to capture the title.
"We always emphasize playoffs," said Herndon head coach Sean Lanigan, who explained that his Herndon teams, in the past and present, have always tried to utilize the regular season to focus on playing as a team, getting better and better as the season rolls along, and remaining healthy as best as possible in order to be in prime form for postseason play. "The playoffs are a whole new season for us."
In the district finals, last Friday night, May 18 at Westfield High School, Herndon (11-2-3) defeated upstart underdog Chantilly, 1-0, to earn the district banner. The victory capped a district tournament surge in which Herndon defeated No. 6-seed Westfield, 3-1, in the quarterfinals, and defending district champion and No. 2-seed Oakton, 4-1, in the semifinals prior to its title match win.
Oakton, which defeated Herndon, 3-0, in last year's district tournament finals, reached the finals once again as a result of a semifinals victory over top seeded Robinson last Wednesday, May 16.
Meanwhile, Chantilly, which was winless over its first nine games this spring, caught fire over the final month of the season and, going into the district championship versus Herndon, had won five of its previous six contests. Chantilly, the No. 5-seed, reached the district tournament finals with wins over No. 4 Centreville and the Rams of Robinson.
Chantilly, while lacking the offensive firepower of some of the top teams in the Northern Region, plays a stellar brand of defense and was a formidable enough opponent in the finals.
"They made it very difficult," said Lanigan, of the finals game versus the Chargers. "They were out and front an improved team from the beginning of the season. We knew going in it would be a battle. They are an extremely organized team and well coached under Brian [Goche]."
The finals game was deadlocked at halftime. The game's lone goal came with about 12 minutes remaining in the second half when Herndon senior Patrick McLauglin scored off a free kick shot. The kick, from the right side, found its place into the left back of the net.
"He saw an opening in the [Chantilly defensive] wall and buried it in the back," said Lanigan, of the goal.
Thereafter, Lanigan said, his team tried to maintain possession of the ball over the final 12 minutes.
"We continued to pressure," he said. "The guys were certainly energized by the [McLaughlin] goal because we didn't want the game to go into overtime."
McLaughlin had not played the final six games of the regular season due to a right leg fracture.
During that month-long stretch without McLaughlin in the line-up, the Hornets rallied and played together. They received outstanding leadership at that time from senior striker EK Korvah.
"Ever since Patrick got hurt, EK has really stepped up and been a leader on this team," said Lanigan. "He really set the tone and the standards for us. He's been a big factor in our success."
BY THE START of the postseason, McLaughlin was back in the line-up for the district tournament. Herndon played and defeated the Westfield Bulldogs, 3-1, at Herndon on Monday, May 14. Korvah and McLaughlin provided the scoring and assists in that contest.
Two days later at Oakton in a semifinals game, Herndon took control over the first 20 minutes, building up a 3-0 lead on way to the 4-1 win over the Cougars. A year earlier in the finals, it had been Oakton which garnered early control versus top-seeded Herndon and never relinquished it as the Cougars won 3-0.
But Friday night belonged to Herndon.
"We just ran at their defense and slid the ball to the outside midfield as we went forward," said Lanigan, of last Wednesday's win over Oakton. "We were up 3-0, 20 minutes into the game. EK was just on fire and stepped up."
Korvah finished with a goal and two assists in the victory. Other goals came from senior midfielder Bryant Fernandez and recent varsity call-up sophomore striker Brian Maye.
Herndon was scheduled to host a first round game of the 16-team Northern Region tournament on Tuesday, May 22 of this week versus local cross-town rival South Lakes, which is under head coach Marty Pfister. The Seahawks (8-3-4), at last week's Liberty District tournament, defeated Madison, 1-0, in a quarterfinals round game on May 15. That victory earned South Lakes an automatic seeding at regionals and also advanced the Seahawks to the district semifinals where they lost at top-seeded Langley, 2-0, on May 17. Langley went on to lose to McLean in the finals, 1-0, last Friday at Madison High School.