Not long after their 6-2 dismantling of Battlefield in Saturday’s 6A state final, Langley seniors looked back and reveled in their two greatest accomplishments. Their 2015 and 2017 state titles were so hard-earned, so satisfying, so sweet.
They were also so very different.
“Sophomore year we weren’t necessarily expected to win it, so there wasn’t as much pressure,” senior forward Jacob Labovitz said. “This year the pressure was on.”
Expectations for this year’s Saxons soared before the first ball was kicked. Word spread quickly across Northern Virginia that Labovitz and Sam Golan — two sophomore catalysts in that 2015 run who honed their skills abroad junior year — would be making their triumphant returns with designs on closing their prep careers in style. Fair or not, the bar became clear: state championship or bust.
That burden of expectation weighed heavily on Langley from the outset. The ballyhooed Saxons opened their 2017 campaign with a one-goal win over Yorktown, then fell flat in a 1-1 draw that saw Washington-Lee run them ragged.
Reality set in on that somber bus ride home: If the Saxons were to fulfill their destiny this spring, it wouldn’t come easy.
“It’s different when you always have a target on your back,” Labovitz said.
At some point after that bus ride, a mental barricade was lifted, and the goals began to pour in without pause. First came a 5-0 rout over Centreville, then a 5-1 romp over Hayfield, then an 8-0 drubbing over Potomac Falls that was cut short by the mercy rule.
Bagging most of those goals was Labovitz, the scoring assassin who only sharpened his arsenal in Europe. Equally involved was Golan, the converted center back whose newfound presence up top tasked defenses with containing two lethal scoring threats.
Good luck with that.
The dynamic duo’s success infected teammates and set off a line of victories that flowed like dominoes.
“There’s a level of confidence that they carry that rubs off on other people,” Langley Coach Bo Amato said.
Goalkeeper Alex Barakat displayed steady improvement as a minor rib injury healed. Daniel Hulett commanded his back line with aplomb. Shayan Harandi shifted the Saxons’ attack into high gear. Dean Hughes blossomed as a hard-charging midfielder pillaging the flanks. And Dean’s older brother, Grant, strapped on his knee brace for the state tournament and reprised his role as Langley’s sturdy holding midfielder, his first game action since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament earlier in the year.
There were plenty more contributors, and Amato wasn’t shy about pointing out every one of them during his team’s prolonged awards ceremony Monday night. The 10th-year Langley coach couldn’t hide his affection for a group that helped compile the program’s 53-4-6 record over the last three seasons.
“Anybody can win something once. That was the message all year,” Amato said. “That seemed to get them in gear.”
When the final whistle sounded Saturday, a pair of Langley players doused their coach in Gatorade. Others danced under a quick burst of confetti. Parents cheered, and teammates exhaled. The pressure was gone.
Then Amato, as he’s prone to do, summed up a roller-coaster season in two flat sentences.
“All we wanted to do earlier this year was try to get assists by whacking the ball to Jacob and playing U-9 soccer,” he said. “Today we came together.”
The Post’s Top 10
Riverside punctuated its unbeaten season with a 1-0 victory in Saturday’s 3A state championship against Blacksburg, a heady accomplishment for a school in its second year of existence …. Briar Woods capped a blistering postseason with its first 5A state title on Saturday …. Battlefield overcame an up-and-down regular season to march all the way to the regional and state finals …. Tuscarora nearly overcame Mills Godwin in Friday’s 5A state semifinals before conceding a sudden-death free kick goal …. Madison finished with nine shutouts and 14 goals conceded, the strongest defensive stat line in Northern Virginia this year …. Oakton rode an 11-game unbeaten streak before falling to Battlefield in the regional semifinals …. Washington-Lee surrendered more than one goal on just three occasions this season …. T.C. Williams enjoyed a 10-game unbeaten streak before exiting with a 1-0 defeat against Madison in the regional quarterfinals …. Heritage captured conference regular season and tournament titles before falling to Kettle Run in the 4A West region.
1. Langley (19-1-2) Last ranked: 1
2. Riverside (21-0-2) LR: NR
3. Briar Woods (14-6-4) LR: 3
4. Battlefield (13-6-3) LR: 2
5. Tuscarora (11-6-5) LR: 4
6. Madison (13-4) LR: 5
7. Oakton (13-5-1) LR: 6
8. Washington-Lee (11-3-3) LR: 7
9. T.C. Williams (12-5-3) LR: 8
10. Heritage (15-4) LR: 9