As McLean senior defender Caroline Gray described it, the last 10 minutes against No. 3 Stone Bridge in Friday’s Virginia AAA Liberty District final were scary, nerve-wracking and exciting — all at once.
For 70 minutes in Vienna, the Highlanders’ strength (their hard-nosed defense) held the Bulldogs’ forte (their high-powered offense) in check. It was a gritty performance, one in which it felt like Stone Bridge could tie the score at any moment. Following the 1-0 McLean win, a Highlanders fan leaving the stands joked that his heart couldn’t take games like this anymore.
“We were just trying to hold on,” said Gray, whose team knocked off Stone Bridge for the district title for the second straight season. “We ended up pulling back our forwards and midfielders to the defense and were just giving it our all.”
As they had all game, Stone Bridge’s offense, led by All-Met forwards Ashley Herndon and Murielle Tiernan, who have combined for 38 goals this season, attacked furiously in the closing minutes. McLean’s starting goalie Maddie Daizell was knocked out of the game in the 46th minute and replaced by backup Grace Desmarais.
To combat this, the Highlanders (11-6) relied on Gray and junior defender Evelyn Robinson, a pair of South Carolina recruits, and freshman Audrey Freeman and junior Fuller Overby to turn away every shot by Stone Bridge (12-1-3).
“They stopped, in my opinion, the two best forwards in the state,” McLean Coach Rob Bouchard said. “They shut them down today and I can’t ask for much for than that. They gave us an opportunity to win by not allowing them to score.”
A free kick by Herndon with three minutes left sailed towards the goal and Desmarais saved it, only to lose her grip on the ball. She and Gray converged back on to the ball to clear it with Stone Bridge players inches away. The crowd let out a sigh of relief.
“It was definitely crazy,” Gray said. “There was no feeling like it. Our motto has always been to throw your body out there and give it all for your team.”
McLean’s Melanie Norton scored the game’s lone goal on a chip shot with 28 seconds left in the first half off a pass from Rose Sommovigo. The Highlanders, which won last season’s AAA title behind a high-powered offense that featured two All-Met players, has been a more defensive-minded squad this season. It’s a role they have grown into and relished of late.
“Grace did everything she could,” Bouchard said. “You couldn’t ask for more from a backup goalie. She stepped in and did everything she could. Our defense and everybody rallied around it. Those guys decided, ‘Let’s hunker down.’”