As teammates passed around the gleaming trophy, each posing happily with Woodgrove‘s newest crowning achievement, Sarah Hardison took a piggyback ride.
The Wolverines senior forward had gone down with an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s AA girls’ soccer title game against Briar Woods and though she would return to play a role in Woodgrove’s 2-0 victory, a teary-eyed and gimpy Hardison needed some help maneuvering through the post-title celebration.
Without a second thought, Wolverines goalie Maggie Buxton volunteered to help, lifting up her fellow senior in one final gesture of support among Woodgrove’s eight college-bound veteran players.
“The chemistry on this team is the best of any team that I’ve been on,” said Buxton, who is headed to James Madison. “As seniors, we are leaders but we don’t place ourselves above the rest of the team. We all support each other in a positive way and it shows in how we overcame the odds to win again this season.”
Along with Buxton and Hardison (George Mason), midfielder/defender Brittany Basinger (Penn State), forward Ashley Bonner (American), defender Bergen Elkjer (Indiana State), midfielder Ashley Tilly (Coastal Carolina), midfielder Victoria Perry (Christopher Newport) and midfielder Samantha Winkler (Eastern Mennonite) will all play soccer at the next level.
Last season, there were seven more college-bound players in the lineup, making for an undefeated run to the title in just the school’s second year of existence. With those starters now gone and the Wolverines enduring their first loss just three games into this season, Buxton admits to having her doubts about Woodgrove’s ability to repeat.
“At one point, I didn’t think we’d make the state tournament because we had lost so many starters,” the second-team All-Met goalie said. “But after we lost to Briar Woods [in the third game of the season], it was a wake-up call and all the seniors came in the locker room and challenged the team to pull together and get stronger from that.”
Four more losses would come during the year, including another defeat at the hands of Briar Woods in the Region II title game. But by then, the talent and wisdom of Woodgrove’s veterans had seeped into the Wolverines, making for a playoff run that proved just as impressive as last year’s campaign.
“Having that leadership out there makes things very easy for me,” Wolverines Coach Erin Barrett said. “I don’t have to get them up for games. They all play for each other and dig deep. You saw it with Sarah sticking through her injury until the end and that early goal by Bergen. It’s just an amazing group.”
Outscoring opponents 30-5 in its nine postseason wins, the Wolverines netted three-plus goals in six games while the defense clamped down, disturbing the offensive flow of their opponents.
In their two-year run, this group of seniors compiled a record of 44-5-2 to go with two Dulles District crowns, a region title, two state championships and a handful of memories to add to their childhood bond.
“Last year, we had double the amount of college players on our team, so we had to work that much harder this year,” Basinger said. “But in those spots left by the players who graduated, we had people step in and do great. This playoff run was tougher and that makes it a little sweeter, especially for us seniors.”
NUMBER CRUNCH: 6
Consecutive Virginia A state titles won by George Mason’s girls’ soccer team following Sunday’s 4-0 win against Stuarts Draft. The Mustangs’ streak marks a state record and punctuated a weekend that saw the boys’ tennis, girls’ tennis and boys’ soccer teams also win championships.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
–After beginning the season 0-3-1, Mount Vernon ended the boys’ soccer campaign with its first AAA title after beating Cosby in a penalty kick shootout on Sunday.
–In the AAA girls’ soccer title game, Battlefield fell to Deep Run, 2-1, ending an impressive season for the Bobcats.
–In softball, Stone Bridge’s late rally comes up just short in a 10-9 loss to Great Bridge in the AAA title game, while Woodgrove couldn’t muster up enough offense to defend its AA crown, losing 9-3 to Cave Spring.