A few minutes after his team’s 8-6 win over previously unbeaten defending Virginia state champion Chantilly, South County Coach Dave Nalls walked alone toward his team’s bench and paused. Still clutching his clipboard, Nalls threw his arms and his head skyward, mouthed thank you, and then smiled and laughed sheepishly as he realized several South County fans stood nearby watching.
Nalls didn’t want to be too demonstrative in his celebration — after all, his team was unbeaten coming into the game, too. To call that mid-April win an “upset” would’ve been an overstatement. Plus, as Nalls put it, the goal “wasn’t to be champions of the ninth game of the season.”
But with that victory, one in which the Stallions never trailed, Nalls and his South County squad became the only remaining unbeaten team in Virginia 6A. They also addressed concerns about the strength of their early-season schedule with back-to-back wins over perennial Loudoun County power Loudoun Valley and then Chantilly.
“This is a statement for us, that we can make a mark in the region. I think we needed some wins like this,” said South County senior and West Point commit David Symmes. “You see talk — ‘South County beats up on mediocre teams, other teams are so much better,’ — I think this was a big deal to show people that we’re legit.”
Nalls coached the lacrosse team at Mount Vernon from 1994 to 2012 and was head coach for 11 seasons before taking the 2013 off for the birth of his first child. With so many seasons logged in Northern Virginia high school lacrosse — “ a P.H.D. in it,” he joked — Nalls understands that as big as Tuesday’s win may be for morale and confidence, a long road lies ahead.
“Our goal, everybody’s goal, is to be the last team standing when it’s all said and done,” Nalls said. “I think we need to get a lot better if we want to do that. Am I satisfied with today’s game? I’m happy that the guys played great, I’m happy about that, but I know that there’s a lot more we can improve on to meet our real goal, which is to be standing at the end.”
“Young,” Gonzaga Coach Casey O’Neill said Tuesday night, “isn’t an excuse when you’re 16 games into the season.”
So, with his team down two with a minute to go against No. 2 Landon, on its way to a second straight loss to IAC powers, 60 seconds from tripling last year’s loss total, O’Neill wasn’t planning to use the Purple Eagles’ relative inexperience to top opponents as consolation.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to. With 55 seconds left, big Richie Petitbon scored to bring Gonzaga within one. Thirty seconds later, he fed Luke Vassos for the equalizer. On the Eagles’ first overtime possession, attackman Mark Anstead buried the game winner. Suddenly, what had been an up-and-down trek through a challenging non-conference schedule ended with a stunning victory in which Gonzaga — which lost 17 players from last year’s WCAC champion team to graduation — seemed to grow up before O’Neill’s eyes.
“We watch so much film, we’re in the weight room every other day, we practice differently; we continually teach and teach and teach — it’s fun, and they’re getting it,” O’Neill said. “Today is kind of a mix of all that. Just to see them run onto the field after, it’s pretty cool.”
Now Gonzaga zeroes in on repeating as WCAC champions, a title it has held after every season since 2010. To do it, the Purple Eagles will likely have to go through DeMatha in the WCAC playoffs. The two teams play in Gonzaga’s regular season finale on April 29.
Georgetown Prep attacker Charlie Horning averaged a hat trick in three games against teams in The Post’s top five over the past week and a half. . . . Jake Ellis scored four goals for St. Mary’s in a 14-8 win over Spalding. . . . Wootton’s Myles Romm scored seven goals in two games last week as the Patriots remained unbeaten with wins over Blair and Middletown.
1. Georgetown Prep (14-0) LW: 1
2. Gonzaga (11-5) LW: 4
3. Landon (12-3) LW: 2
4. DeMatha (13-2) LW: 3
5. St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (10-4) LW: 5
6. St. Mary’s (8-4) LW: 6
7. Howard (11-0) LW: 7
8. Arundel (9-1) LW: 8
9. South County (9-0) LW: NR
10. Wootton (9-0) LW:NR
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