George Mason's 4-3 victory against Clarke County in the Virginia A Region B girls' soccer championship last Friday was a milestone in the Mustangs' season. Before that game, Clarke County had defeated George Mason three times by a combined 12-3, including a 3-2 loss in the Bull Run District championship. But over the past couple of weeks the Mustangs made some changes to their lineup and, as assistant coach Bob Penland said, "things have started to come together."
Among the changes the Mustangs (12-6-1) have made were moving junior Rachel Sweeney to sweeper and moving freshman Katie Turner from sweeper to stopper.
The move has increased Turner's freedom to attack on offense and placed what Penland calls "a stalwart and hard-nosed defender" in Sweeney to guard the back.
Turner has combined with seniors Becky Roa and Alison Penland for a total of 18 goals in the Mustangs past five playoff games. The three first-team all-district players were also first-team all-region selections.
"You can see the impact they have had for us and their scoring punch in the playoffs," Bob Penland said. "We had a couple of disappointments early in the season and now we are turning things around."
The George Mason boys' soccer team's 12-game winning streak came to an end last Friday when the Mustangs lost to Clarke County 1-0 in the Virginia A Region B championship.
It was the first time the Mustangs (15-3-1) had been shut out since a season-opening loss to Dominion. Clarke County scored on a shot that deflected off a George Mason defender midway through the first half. The score also ended a six-game streak in which Mustangs senior goal keeper Alex Fatovic had not allowed a goal.
"That first goal . . . it was very deflating," George Mason coach Art Iwanicki said. "I think our kids responded well [but] when you continually shut people out like we do, you [aren't] used to people scoring on you."
Iwanicki said the Mustangs had two legitimate chances to score in the 10 minutes after Clarke County's score, but George Mason came up empty-handed. With the win, Clarke County earned a bye to this weekend's state semifinals; George Mason was scheduled to host Windsor in a Tuesday quarterfinal that ended too late to be included in this edition.
"I've been in this game long enough that you just roll your eyes when you see one of those [near misses], because you know it's going to be that kind of night," said Iwanicki, who is in his fifth year coaching at George Mason. The loss "is kind of a two-edged sword because we are more focused and clear about what we have to do, but then our road to the state final is that much harder."
Rough Road Ahead
Even though his team knocked out the defending Virginia AAA champion on the way to the school's first Northern Region title since 1998, W.T. Woodson girls' soccer coach Sean Burke knows that the road to a state title only gets tougher.
Last season, Lake Braddock rode the wave of its regional final win over Chantilly to three straight 4-1 wins in the state tournament. The top-ranked Cavaliers have still been winning, but still haven't made anything look that convincing.
W.T. Woodson needed seven rounds of penalty kicks to eliminate Lake Braddock in the regional semifinals and three second-half goals to beat Centreville in the regional final.
"I think as a coaching staff we're a little unhappy with the last two games. We haven't really put our stamp on things," Burke said before Tuesday's state quarterfinal with Cox, which ended too late to be included in this edition.