The Western Albemarle girls soccer team entered the finals of the 3A State Tournament at Roanoke College with a record of 21-2. The next day, on June 11, they put their final tally in the win column with a 2-0 victory over Brentsville, bringing home the state crown for the first time since 2002.
Having lost only to cross-town rival Albemarle during the regular season, the Western girls were confident but not cocky going into the big game. Some of the juniors and seniors on the squad were there two years ago when Western fell in the finals to Blacksburg, and they were determined not to lose their second chance at the title now. As junior Shannon Moore, one of the team’s stars and an All-State defender, said, “Each person had the state title as an individual goal from the beginning of the year, so when we got to the final game we were ready!”
Brentsville was a largely unknown opponent, one whom the girls had not faced before, and they put up a good fight. Western played well and got several good shots, but just struggled to finish their chances on goal for the first fifty minutes. After a half-time pep talk from head coach Jake Desch and associate head coach Robert Crickenberger, things changed, though. Senior captain Emma Ratcliffe recalled, “Our coaches told us now it’s up to us to finish using our own knowledge and skill. It was a big turning point in the game. We came out strong in the second half.”
Junior Elizabeth Fabiano provided the spark the Warriors had been looking for, taking a pass from junior Savannah Wilson and tapping it into Brentsville’s goal. Ratcliffe said that goal “got the confidence high and the momentum rolling.” Ten minutes later, freshman Erin Meier scored on an impressive shot nearly 30 yards from the goal. The second score sealed the deal for the Warriors.
For the closing minutes of the game, with their victory in sight, the girls didn’t let up. Moore, who suffered a high ankle sprain the day before in the semi-finals, couldn’t play, but the girls were relentless on defense even without her. Crickenberger praised the girls for their tenacity: “The fact that we were able to remain so dominant on defense was a testament to our girls.” Junior Jane Romness, recently named the 3A All-State Player of the Year, dominated the midfield, and Crickenberger also commended sophomore Jane Berg and senior Nichole Heon for leading the defense, rising fearlessly to the challenge of playing without Moore. The win truly was a team effort.
Because so many of the girls have played together for so long, the camaraderie among them added to the sweetness of the final whistle confirming the win. Ratcliffe, for instance, plays on the wing side of Heon, one her best friends and another captain. She credited the championship not just to the girls’ collective talent and experience, but to the fact that the team this year was “more like a family. We were closer as teammates and friends.” Crickenberger, who has been at Western for six years, said this is also the most talented team he’s coached so far, and added, “We expect much of the same from our returners next year.” The rest of the soccer world should consider themselves warned.