The Loudoun County girls soccer team spent three years building toward this point -- the Group AA championship game -- which is why senior defender Merrie Tobler wasn't crying after the Raiders lost, 2-1, to Jamestown on Saturday at Cave Springs Junior High School in Roanoke.
The Raiders have improved each year since Tobler was a sophomore, when Loudoun County lost in the Region II semifinals. Last year, the Raiders lost in the Region II final; this spring, they won the Region II final for the first time and advanced to the state championship.
"It's sort of equal, the disappointment and the sense of accomplishment," Tobler said after Saturday's game. "We've never gotten this far before."
No AA girls soccer team had gotten that far before -- this was the first year the Virginia High School League sanctioned a state tournament for AA girls soccer. The Raiders dominated their first two state tournament opponents, outshooting Massaponax and Blacksburg, 55-9, in two victories last week.
On Saturday, Loudoun County outshot Jamestown, 12-11, but struggled to score. The Eagles -- who beat Loudoun Valley, 1-0, in the state quarterfinals -- scored in the 57th minute on Amanda Loveland's shot from 18 yards. The Raiders nearly tied the game with 10 minutes to play when Jaime Gaines crossed the ball to an open Denise Franklin, but Franklin's header went wide of the goal.
Jamestown made the score 2-0 with less than five minutes left in the game when Jill Murphy pushed a shot through a group of Loudoun County defenders and past goalkeeper MacKenzie Kelly. Loudoun County freshman Erin Rowley scored in the game's final minute on a beautiful shot from 18 yards that went into the upper right corner of the goal.
Scoring the late goal "was definitely important. Even though we didn't play our best game, we showed our best effort," Tobler said. "We kept going and gave it all we could."
Loudoun County finished its season with an 18-5 record. The Raiders were shut out only once in 23 games; the other four losses were by 2-1 scores. The team loses three seniors, all starters -- Tobler, midfielder Meagan Horner and defender Julie Passarelli -- but the bulk of the team will return next season to try to build on this year's accomplishments.
"Being the state runner-up is a great accomplishment, and I think the girls know that, too," Loudoun County Coach Scott Cray said. "They know we had a great season, and that we just didn't play our best game today."
Jamestown (16-3) 0 2 -- 2
Loudoun County (18-5) 0 1 -- 1
GOALS -- J: Loveland 57th minute, Murphy 76th; LC: Rowley 79th.
ASSISTS -- J: Trainum.
SHOTS -- J: 11; LC: 12.
SAVES -- J: Sisk 8; LC: Kelly 6.
CAPTION: Victory in Defeat: Even though the Loudoun County girls soccer team, including Whitney Mercer, right, and Erin Rowley, lost to Jamestown in the first Group AA state final, the Raiders can walk away with a positive attitude after completing their best season.
CAPTION: Loudoun County's Jennifer Lapetoda jumps over goalkeeper as Jamestown's Kelly Stannard (10) tries to maneuver around them during the Raiders' 2-1 loss in the first Group AA state championship game. Below, Jamestown player gets tangled with Tara Kidwell of Loudoun County, which won the Region II final for first time this season.