Madison-Oakton girls’ lacrosse final has a family twist to it


“We know Madison well, we know what we need to do to correct our mistakes against them,” Oakton Coach Jean Counts, above, said of her team, which lost twice to Madison earlier. Madison is coached by her sister-in-law, Amanda Counts. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Over the last 15 years Amanda Counts has carved out a comfortable place next to Jean Counts. From standing with Jean as a 14-year-old bridesmaid at her wedding to throwing an arm around her in family photos to flanking her on the sideline as an assistant lacrosse coach at Oakton, Amanda is accustomed to being close to her sister-in-law.

But Saturday, when she leads her unbeaten Madison Warhawks into the Virginia girls’ lacrosse state final against Oakton at Westfield, Amanda Counts will stand opposite Jean for a change.

Madison is hoping to cap a season of dominance with its first state title — an accomplishment with which Jean Counts is very familiar. The 14-year head coach helped the Cougars bring home three consecutive championships from 2006 to ’08.

“It’s not the most comfortable matchup because I’m rooting for my team to win and I know how bad it would sting to be on the other end of that,” Amanda Counts said. “That’s not something that I would want anybody in my family to feel. But at the same time, there are only two teams still playing and if I had to choose an opponent to have along for this whole ride with us, I would choose Oakton.”

Jean Counts, 37, got her start at Oakton right out of college, taking a head coaching job in 1998 at the age of 24, two years after marrying Amanda’s older brother, Justin. In 2005 she added Amanda — a star at W.T. Woodson and fresh off a college lacrosse career at Virginia Tech — to her coaching staff and in 2006 the Cougars captured the first Virginia High School League sanctioned championship. The following fall Amanda, 29, left for Madison where she has quickly built the Warhawks into a force in the Northern Region and the state.

“Jean taught me a lot about how to coach and be effective working with teenage girls,” Amanda Counts said. “It’s kind of a nice symbolic thing to have us both here at the end of the line.”

With a fluid, balanced attack loaded with goal-scoring threats, the Warhawks (20-0) are averaging better than 19 goals per game and have outscored their opponents by a whopping 246. First-team All-Met senior Allison Hahn is the catalyst in the middle with 61 goals and 46 assists to her name, but Madison’s plethora of attacking options — the Warhawks have eight players with 20 or more goals — continue to baffle opposing defenses. The Warhawks have done it all with more freshmen (four) than seniors (three) on an unusually youthful roster.

“The biggest thing we’ve worked on this season is movement,” Hahn said. “We have so many different plays that set up strengths from different players. When we’re running our stuff you can’t predict what we’re going to do.”

In two previous meetings against Oakton this season, Madison flexed its offensive muscle, tallying 23 goals in two run-away victories, the second for the Warhawks’ first Northern Region title.

“We know Madison well, we know what we need to do to correct our mistakes against them,” Jean Counts said. “I’m hoping my team will step up and face the challenge, because there’s no day after tomorrow.”

Oakton (17-6) has won 10 of 11 including an impressive 23-12 rout of Chantilly in the semifinals and the Cougars’ dynamic attack led by juniors Carly Palmucci (78 goals, 71 assists) and Jackie Rupp (48 goals, 25 assists) hopes to keep pace.

“They’re our neighbors, our friends, our sisters — and sister-in-law,” Palmucci said. “We haven’t played our best against them and I think we have a lot to show.”

But after watching their perfect regular season end in the 2010 state quarterfinals, the Warhawks are determined to make this the year they finally bring home a championship.

“The whole Oakton-Madison rivalry by itself, without the relations, is already really intense,” Madison sophomore Carly Frederick said. “We know it’s going to be competitive, but we just need to play our game. We’ve come close to this point the last couple years but now that we’re here, we really want to win it.”

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