The Stafford field hockey team has learned to build off of its setbacks.
The loss to Culpeper in last season's Virginia AAA Northwestern Regional semifinals, which ended the Indians' run of five straight state tournament appearances, was devastating. The loss to arch rival North Stafford -- a team Stafford had beaten three times already this season -- in last week's regional final was nothing more than a reason to refocus.
It showed on Thursday at the National Team Training Center, as Stafford advanced to the Virginia AAA field hockey semifinals with a convincing 3-1 win over James River of Richmond.
"That's the good thing about our team. [Because of] that loss, we learned from our mistakes," said Anne Gehring, who scored Stafford's second-half goal. "We learned what we had to do and we did it."
Stafford (17-4) will face Virginia Beach's Princess Anne (18-4) in Friday's 1 p.m. semifinal, after the Cavaliers defeated Jefferson, 2-0. Virginia Beach's Cox (15-8) and Chester's L.C. Bird (16-4) will play in Friday's second semifinal, after Cox beat defending state champion W.T. Woodson, 4-0, and Bird beat North Stafford, 2-1, in overtime.
Dana Russell, Lindsay Shacklette and Gehring scored for Stafford, which built a 3-0 lead on the strength of good execution on nine penalty corners and passing to open areas.
Stafford, which reached the state title game in 2000, led 2-0 at halftime and put the Rapids (14-3) away when Gehring -- one of four seniors on the team -- scored at the back post with 22 minutes 41 seconds left in the game.
"I told them that they had to refocus and go on, but that they had to remember the tears," Stafford Coach Robin Woodie said of the loss in the regional final to North Stafford. "The girls aren't just happy to be here. They know that there are great teams that aren't here. They came down to compete. They came down to let everybody know that we belong here."
What looked like a promising afternoon for area teams dissipated quickly in the two late afternoon games. Defending state champion W.T. Woodson started slowly against a turf-savvy team from Cox, and North Stafford couldn't protect a late 1-0 lead in regulation before losing on a penalty stroke in overtime.
Jefferson (18-4) was shut out by Beach District power Princess Anne, leaving the Northern Region outscored 6-0 in two matchups with teams that had played their district and region tournaments at the state tournament site.
W.T. Woodson (19-4-1) beat two Beach District teams last year on the way to winning the school's first state title, but found themselves behind 2-0 this year at halftime.
"I think the kids came out expecting to be on their heels. They looked flat," Cavaliers Coach Andy Muir said. "That's a good hockey team, we can't complain about the result. They finished their chances when they came along. I think they've got what it takes to go all the way."
The one thing that Jefferson and North Stafford (14-6) had in common was that they were taken down by some of the state's top players.
Princess Anne midfielder Heather Winn clogged the middle, taking away the long passing game of the Colonials.
L.C. Bird, making its first-ever trip to the state tournament, was carried to victory by junior midfielder Anna Junk.
The German exchange student, who scored 21 goals in regular season play for Bird, scored a brilliant goal on a penalty corner to force overtime and buried the penalty stroke with 7:10 left in the first overtime to clinch the win.