From the outset of the season, the Stone Bridge girls' soccer team has been finding ways to overcome adversity and come out on top. In reaching their first Virginia AA championship game with a 2-1 win over Cave Spring on Friday night, the players showed just how far they have come.
Coming into their first state semifinal, the Bulldogs (15-4-4) were a little too excited, and it showed on the field, where they were making hasty decisions and were quick to give up possession. But 15 minutes into the game, Stone Bridge was able to gain its footing and slow the ball down, resulting in an early lead on Shelly Burkett's goal in close.
Seemingly cruising in the second half, the Bulldogs once again found trouble when senior midfielder Megan Malacarne went down with a left knee injury. For a couple of moments, Stone Bridge appeared lost and gave up the tying goal.
Once again, the Bulldogs rebounded, and six minutes later, junior forward Mary Jo Loos converted a penalty kick for the decisive margin.
"We're excited," said Loos after the game. "We set goals at the beginning of the year that we wanted to win states. Look where we are now. We're at the state finals, and we're looking forward to tomorrow."
Stone Bridge played Courtland in the final yesterday. (Yesterday's championship game ended too late to be included in today's Loudoun Extra. See today's sports section for complete coverage.)
Loos has also had to adjust her game during these playoffs. When she injured her right hand during the region playoffs, she was forced to move out of the goal, where she had dominated opponents all season, to the front line. But, as usual, Stone Bridge adjusted.
In five games as a forward, Loos has scored six goals. Her replacement as goalkeeper, sophomore Alex Traughber, has more than held her own, allowing only three goals in the same span.
"Early in the year, we talked about having to weather storms," said second-year coach Jim Felix. "They weathered a storm, and they didn't give up. They just came right back and got at it. They did what they had to do, and they took care of business."
Stone Bridge is exactly where it had hoped to be when the season began, with a shot at playing for a state title.
"We'll make a couple of adjustments and then see how that goes," Felix said of his plans for a title game that will probably be played without Malacarne. "I really thought that they had it in them. They kept themselves focused on it, and I think they're pretty happy about it."
With the Bulldogs reaching the final, they continue a streak of at least one Dulles District team advancing to the AA championship game each year it has been played.