Great Falls Langley High’s varsity girls lacrosse team earned a spot in the finals of the Northern Regional tournament and a seeding in the upcoming Virginia High School League (VHSL) state tournament with a thrilling semifinals comeback win over the Centreville Wildcats on the turf field at Marshall High School’s Jimmie Miller Field last Thursday, May 24.
Trailing 6-2 at halftime over a tenacious and opportunistic Wildcat squad, the Lady Saxons steadied themselves in the second half, playing lock-down, shut-out defense and steadily chipping away on the offensive end until senior Nicky Pritchett nailed the game-winner with just over four minutes left. The Lady Saxon defense then forced another Wildcat turnover and held on to the ball on the offensive end through the tense final minutes to the game-ending horn, sealing a Northern Regional final date with the Oakton High School Cougars.
Juniors Hayley Soutter and Olivia Sisson turned in outstanding performances, with Soutter scoring three goals and assisting on one, while Sisson tallied twice and played key midfield and defensive roles throughout the tightly played contest. Freshman Caroline Wakefield led the young, up-and-coming Wildcat team with two goals and three assists.
PLAYING ON MARSHALL’S turf field as a pre-caution against the turbulent weather that had already postponed the region semifinals game a day, the Wildcats and Saxons squared off, each ranked in Laxpower’s top-five for Virginia with only two losses to top-ranked state teams.
From the outset, Centreville dominated the draw, with well-timed jumps on ground balls yielding constant offensive opportunities against a besieged but stout Saxon defense. In fact, the Lady Saxons were able to score first following a save by All-Region Defender of the Year goalie Erin Long, who set off a downfield sequence that ended with senior co-captain Kelly Martins’ burying a shot for a brief Langley lead.
But the first half would belong to Centreville, who evened things at 18:22 on a score from First Team All-Region freshman Caroline Wakefield, followed quickly by a netter from another First Team All-Region freshman, Reagan Newell, assisted by Wakefield, to give the Wildcats the lead.
The Saxons’ prospects seemed to darken with the ominous skies, as the Wildcats’ formula of draw control and patient offensive execution built a steady lead against the anxious, error-prone Langley squad.
Senior Maggie Dulkerian scored at 16:18, and the Wildcats were content to sit on their two-goal lead until 6:21, when, following a downfield sprint by Saxon senior Caroline Mahoney resulting in a Wildcat yellow card, Soutter finally scored on a penalty to make it 3-2.
The respite was brief as Wakefield would tally again at 3:46 and 3:29, to make it 5-2 Centreville. The Saxons’ spirits sagged further when they recovered a ground ball near their own goal but made an errant pass that resulted in an easy turnover goal for Centreville and a 6-2 score with two minutes in the half. Goalie Long again proved her insuperable value to the Saxon squad by pouncing on a Wildcat penalty shot called with one second on the first-half clock, casting a thin crack of light into the seeming twilight of the Saxon season.
THE SECOND HALF opened with several more turnovers by the jittery Lady Saxons, but they surmounted these errors through absolutely smothering defense, administered by co-captain Macy Anderson, Mahoney, junior Kelly Dore and a host of midfielders including the versatile and determined Sisson and Soutter. At 18:32, Soutter powered her way in against the Wildcat defense and scored on the ensuing penalty to make it 6-3. Winning the ensuing draw, Soutter again made her presence felt with a penalty goal to cut the lead to two at 16:23.
For seven long minutes, the Wildcats held the ball waiting for a chink in the Saxon defensive armor, but none was to be found, and the grueling battle of wills was won with a turnover that led to a surgical Langley offensive pattern, ending when Soutter found Sisson streaking across the crease. The junior Saxon buried the ball and the Wildcat lead was cut to one with 9:26 on the clock.
By this time, the tide had turned, and the Langley squad played with increasing aggressiveness on the defensive end and confidence on the offensive side. Mahoney scooped a ground ball and stormed through a host of Wildcats to the safety of the offensive end. Excellent ball movement by senior co-captains Ellie Glasgow, Martins and junior Grace Goettman, sophomore Jordan Simonides and All-Region First Team senior Margo Swomley gave the Saxons the opening. Swomley fed Sisson, who whipped the ball home and the game was tied.
Then it was time for senior leadership. Following a back-and-forth battle for control on both ends of the field, the Saxons emerged with a chance to take the lead. The Wildcat defense played well and yielded few opportunities. Then, senior Nicky Pritchett, inserted at halftime by Saxons coach Richard `Des’ DeSomma, took the ball at the top of the 8-meter arc, ran left to her favored hand, cut right against the surprised Wildcat defense, and buried the difference-maker at 4:05 on the clock, capping a two-year comeback from injury and proving her mettle to one and all.
The next four-plus minutes proved as tense as a courtroom drama as Sisson found a way to control the ensuing draw and the Lady Saxons put on a ball-control clinic to the dismay of the increasingly desperate Wildcat squad. Swomley particularly distinguished herself, eluding numerous defensive traps, and snaring at least two contested ground balls that made all the difference as the game clock ticked down. Martins, the speedy co-captain, caged the ball and motored around the goal’s perimeter, burning off the final seconds and leading to a wild Saxon celebration for a win to be savored – albeit briefly, as the regional tourney finals game was still to be played.
"This was an outstanding comeback and example of our team composure and determination,” said coach DeSomma. “It’s a Lady Saxon victory that will be remembered for a long time.
"Full credit goes to a well-coached Centerville team that came at us with a superb game plan,” said DeSomma. “As young as they are, expect great things from them in the future."