It was very important to the Yorktown field hockey team that its Saturday morning bus ride felt normal. The Patriots are superstitious on game days, so the fact they were traveling 90 minutes south to make the first state title appearance in program history could not and would not knock them off routine.
So before their 1-0 victory over Western Branch in the Class 6 championship, they got bagels from the same bagel place they always do, and then they spent the bus ride killing time as they always do: braiding each other’s hair and listening to music.
If there were newfound nerves on Yorktown’s bus, they were buried under the comfort of the familiar.
“When something is a little off, we just can’t let that happen,” junior goalkeeper Morgan Stone said of the superstitions. “There are things we feel we need in order to win. It’s important to us.”
That afternoon, when they eventually took the field at Courtland High, the Patriots again stuck to doing what they always do. And this season, that means winning.
A first-quarter goal from junior Emily Stafford was enough to make the difference in the victory, and Yorktown will forever remember its first trip to the state final with a banner.
“Being able to coach this amazing group of girls all the way to today has been incredible,” Coach Olivia Shipley said. “Today is a special day for the program.”
Before this fall, the last time Yorktown (22-1) had won even a district title was in 2008, when Shipley was on the field as a player.
“Walking into this game, we knew that, win or lose, we had still made history. We had still made our mark,” Stone said. “Yorktown field hockey has been put on the map.”
After Stafford’s early goal, Stone and her defense were handed the pressure of protecting it. The postseason had familiarized the team with tense, defensive battles as the Patriots already had posted two shutouts and earned four wins by two goals or less. In fact, Friday’s 7-1 win over Grassfield in the state semifinal was their most comfortable victory of the playoffs.
But if Yorktown was going to clinch a title, it would have to do it the hard way. So the team clamped down on Western Branch, another first-time finalist, and held on to its lead until the final whistle.
“[A one-goal game] is always stressful but especially on a day like this where it feels like everything is on the line. I had to remind myself to keep breathing,” Stone said. “I wouldn’t have been able to handle it without my teammates. None of us would.”