Gonzaga senior Jarrett Thomas's second goal, a header off a cross from Grady Renfrow, sent Paul VI Catholic packing as the Eagles captured their third consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship with a 2-1 victory yesterday in Fairfax.
"It looked like a big huge watermelon coming at my head, a beach ball," said Thomas, who collected the pass in the 46th minute. "I just buried it. It was easy to do."
Said Gonzaga Coach Don Smith: "This year has been tough for everybody, first with the sniper and then with the weather, but it's been stop-and-go so much that it's hard to keep the kids in a rhythm. I have to compliment our seniors -- they knew what they needed to do to win."
Thomas's first goal came after a long clearing ball ended up in his possession deep in Paul VI's end. Thomas faked two defenders for an open look at the net from 15 yards and launched a high-velocity shot into the upper part of the goal.
Thomas's header gave the Eagles a 2-0 lead, which provided enough cushion as the Panthers threatened for most of the second half. Senior midfielder Ryan Price scored for Paul VI in the 53rd minute.
The Panthers were seeded ninth out of nine teams, but in the first round they shocked top-ranked DeMatha with a shootout victory. Paul VI defeated St. John's on Wednesday to set up the championship matchup.
"These guys are best friends, they play club together, and they care about each other," Paul VI Coach Andrew Burk said. "I think that's as much a reason that we got as far as we did. They played for each other."
Every member of the O'Connell girls' team knew well the team's recent history of futility in the WCAC playoffs, yet the Knights rarely mentioned it. But an emotional celebration that followed their 2-0 victory over No. 4 Good Counsel in the championship game in Fairfax lifted what appeared to be a big weight off the team's shoulders.
"We never really brought it up that much," O'Connell sophomore forward L.B. Puglisi said. "But it was in our mind."
Puglisi scored in the 37th minute, and sophomore Amanda Dabbenigno secured the victory with a goal in the 79th minute as the fifth-ranked Knights (14-2) captured their first conference title since 1997. Good Counsel (9-2-1) had won the past four titles, including championship-game victories over O'Connell in 1999 and 2000. Last year, O'Connell lost to Bishop Ireton in the semifinal.
"We really wanted this game," O'Connell senior Katie Hogwood said. "There was just no way this team was going to lose today, there was no way."
During a physical first half, the Knights put out a dazzling display of scoring opportunities, outshooting the Falcons 9-1. The first goal finally came after a long kick from junior midfielder Natalie Arias was mishandled by the Good Counsel defense. Puglisi took control of the ball and outran the defense for the first goal.
Good Counsel attempted only two second-half shots, but the Falcons threatened for much of the half. But in the 79th minute, O'Connell's Dabbenigno took a long cross pass from sophomore Kerry Philbin and scored from 15 yards.
"I just was so happy for the seniors who had not been able to win one yet," O'Connell Coach Alberto Starace said. "They were all asking me why I wasn't as emotional as they were, but I've been here before. I'm just happy for them."