Warm-ups have taken on new meaning for Lake Braddock's girls' soccer team. Instead of simply getting ready to play, the players' performances decide where they will be on the field. With a surplus of talent and a slew of injuries, Coach Liz Pike's tinkering has reached the point where the lineup isn't set until the game starts.
"Liz never knows where we're going to play until she watches us warm up," senior Candace Hollis said. "That's when she comes up with her magic lineups."
Starting with the No. 2 Bruins' Northern Region quarterfinal game against No. 8 Centreville, Lake Braddock's players have switched around so much that it's become futile to attempt to nail down their positions.
Hollis shuttled back and forth between forward and defense, which she previously didn't play in her high school career. Two usual defenders -- sophomores Katherine Weiler and Stephanie Hylton -- have both played forward for the first time. Sophomore Mary Carter Jacocks has garnered minutes at midfield and defender, and junior All-Met Kristin Bowers has switched between midfield and forward.
The youth on the Bruins' roster -- Lake Braddock usually starts as many as six sophomores and only two seniors -- prevented Pike from fully experimenting until the team learned to play together. But as evidenced by their stellar playoff performances that time has come. The Bruins (13-3-2) defeated No. 5 Chantilly, 2-1 in overtime, in last week's region championship, winning their second title in three seasons. (In 2003, that championship led to another: the AAA state title.) By beating Centreville and Chantilly, Lake Braddock avenged two of its three losses this year.
"During warmups I look to see who has the right frame of mind and is playing with the right level of focus," Pike said. "I can make my decisions on who should be playing where from there. That's a luxury of having a talent-filled team."
Even if the players' skill level weren't as high, the lineup changes would need to continue into the state playoffs. The Bruins played No. 3 Forest Park on Tuesday night [the game ended too late to be included in this edition] in the state quarterfinals and were expected to be without Hollis, a victim of a severely sprained ankle suffered in the waning minutes of regulation against Chantilly, and Jacocks, who strained her MCL in the regional semis against Langley but hopes to be back if Lake Braddock advances.
The loss of the Delaware State-bound Hollis is particularly devastating considering how the Bruins' two senior starters -- both of whom played on the 2003 state championship team -- have performed recently. Hollis shut down Centreville All-Met forward Emily Jukich, had a strong game against Langley and netted the equalizer 76 minutes into the win over Chantilly. Entering the state playoffs, senior midfielder Lindsay Bowers has scored in three straight games, including the overtime winner in the region final.
"The two of them have definitely stepped it up," Pike said. "When we lost to Robinson [in the Patriot District final], something clicked with them and they took it to another level. They've set an example for the rest of the team."
To continue their winning ways, the Bruins will need even more production from their younger players. Lindsay Bowers said that the seniors have been able to convey a sense of urgency to the underclassmen, who seem to be getting the message.
"Last year when we didn't make it to states, I was really upset that we couldn't send the seniors off as state champions," Hylton said. "This year, even though I want [the title] for myself, I want it even more for them."