Twenty-two seconds after reentering Saturday's Virginia AAA field hockey championship, Stafford junior Lauren Sullivan made sure the crowd at Virginia Commonwealth University knew she was more than your typical substitute.
Continuing a season-long strategy designed to keep the team's forwards fresh, Sullivan subbed in for the seventh time in the game and made the appearance count more than all the others. With 20 minutes left in the game, Sullivan spun a shot into the low right corner of the goal, past the outstretched leg of the Princess Anne goalie, to give the Indians a 2-1 victory, an unbeaten season and the school's first state title.
"I didn't know where I was shooting it, I was just hoping it would go in," Sullivan said. "If it didn't go in, I was hoping that someone else would get a stick on it. I didn't plan to put it right there."
Regardless of her intent, Sullivan's shot found the goal, sending into a frenzy Stafford fans who had seen their team falter in previous tournament meetings with Princess Anne. Stafford lost to the defending champion Cavaliers in the state semifinals last year, and in 2000, Princess Anne spoiled the Indians' only other appearance in a championship game.
In both previous state meetings against Princess Anne, Stafford squandered one-goal leads. But this time, the Indians (24-0) were the ones to come back, scoring two straight after the Cavaliers (19-4-1) notched the opener with five minutes left in the first half.
With many players from last year's team returning, and members of the 2000 squad appearing all weekend to cheer on the Indians, the win was all the more satisfying.
"You can demand and have high expectations, but you've got to have the clay to work with," Stafford Coach Robin Woodie said. "These girls definitely are the clay. They're just awesome young ladies."
Sullivan's heroics were made possible only after senior Lauren Elstein coolly tied the game earlier. Like in football, in which a half cannot end on a defensive penalty, the Indians were awarded an untimed penalty corner at the end of the first half. After seniors Rebecca Sullivan and Lindsay Shacklette set it up, Elstein shot a bullet low to the ground for a score.
The Indians can point to many examples of their dominance this year. In the regular season and district and regional playoffs Stafford outscored its opponents 110-5, notched 17 shutouts and played overtime only once. In the state tournament, Stafford beat a murderer's row of challengers: 13-time state champion Cox, the winningest program in Virginia history; 2003 state champion W.T. Woodson; and Princess Anne.
"Stafford just has a good team," Princess Anne Coach Denise O'Connell said. "They played tough, they hung in there and they executed. It was a remarkable game, definitely at state championship level. They finished and we couldn't."
At the end of the game, Stafford's fans, including a contingent in blue-and-yellow body paint and part of the school's marching band, charged the field and huddled with the players and coaches for an energetic -- and long-awaited -- celebration.
"It's an amazing feeling," Elstein said. "None of us have ever experienced this before. We set this goal for ourselves to win states after we lost in the semifinals. From that point on, we thought we were going to win, but I don't think any of us anticipated a 24-0 season."