The instant the Potomac Falls girls' soccer team had completed its 2-0 victory over Broad Run in the Virginia AA championship game Saturday night, the Panthers erupted. Their reactions were as varied as they were animated, with most of the girls visibly caught in a whirlwind of emotion.
Senior midfielder Hayley Pasko, for one, wasn't sure just what to do -- or what to feel. At first it was excitement as she celebrated with her teammates, jumping with her arms stretched overhead as the players held aloft both the championship trophy and an enlarged photo of former teammate Nicole Megaloudis, a 2003 graduate who died in a car accident in February.
Pasko then kissed the black arm band bearing Megaloudis's No. 15 and screamed exuberantly before planting another kiss on the left cheek of junior All-Met Lauren Malan. More jumping and dancing followed as Pasko laughed and then leaped into the outstretched arms of junior Kristina Guinter and then Malan.
But as Malan lugged her off the field -- clutching Pasko in her arms and that large photo of Megaloudis in her left hand -- the laughs, for both girls, turned to tears. The two friends stood for several minutes locked in a hug, weeping out of sadness and then satisfaction and, finally, relief.
"I can't explain how much this means," said Pasko, wiping her eyes. "We decided at the beginning of the season that we were going to win this in honor of [Megaloudis]. We knew that would be the best way to keep her memory alive . . . to keep her with us just a little bit longer. She was definitely our motivation."
Added Malan: "All year, she was the first person we thought of after every practice, every game and every score. This season was for her, and we weren't going to settle for anything less than this. We had to win it all for her. Just getting here would not have been enough."
Panthers Coach Kris Kelican knew as much to be true. And he feared it.
Kelican doesn't usually even entertain the idea of losing before entering a game, but he acknowledged that on Saturday afternoon he had worried that a loss to the Spartans -- with his players having made their dedication and expectations so public -- could have proved overwhelming.
"I really thought we'd win the game, I did," Kelican said. "Maybe because I knew we had to. If we'd have lost it, it would have been just devastating for the girls."
Part of his concern was rooted in the fact that, before Saturday night, the Panthers and Spartans had been evenly matched. Potomac Falls won their two most recent meetings in the Dulles District and Region II finals; Broad Run collected a 1-0 victory April 20; and the teams tied May 14.
Throughout the state final, however, the Panthers were dominant. Their passes were crisp and timely. Their constant awareness of where each teammate was positioned was remarkable. Their defense was stifling.
A goal by junior Ashleigh Snook three minutes into the game off a corner kick by Pasko gave Potomac Falls confidence. Another score by freshman Ashley Mullins with less than two minutes remaining provided cushion that was, ultimately, unnecessary.
Potomac Falls's defense allowed Broad Run only five shots in the game, including none in the final 14 minutes.
"When we play like that, play our best, I don't think there are many teams in the state who could beat us," Kelican said.
"Part of it is just the relationships between the girls. They're so close-knit and so connected when they're on the field, and that's hard to beat. They're desire to win was also phenomenal."
It marked the second girls' soccer state title in school history for Potomac Falls; the Panthers also won in 2000 -- Megaloudis's freshman season. But Megaloudis, a four-time all-Extra and two-time second-team All-Met pick, was denied a repeat as the Panthers lost in the state final in both 2001 (to Broad Run) and 2002 and were knocked out during Region II play last season.
Those near-misses made winning this year, and using the state title as a tribute to Megaloudis, so critical to the current players. They wore T-shirts to every game with her number on the front and a quote from their one-time leader and teammate -- "We gotta go. We gotta go, go, go . . . " -- on the back.
The line under the quote read: "This one's for you."
"That's why we had to get it done," Pasko said. "From the first practice this season all the way up until the end, we never compromised on what we wanted to do for her. And we were not going to let her down."