Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Maggie Lane was Centreville's goalie.
With each passing round of the playoffs, as teams sweat over the raised stakes and reduced margin for error, Centreville’s girls’ soccer players have reached a new place of mental freedom.
Whatever tense moments this postseason has offered pale in comparison to the blows the Wildcats endured during the regular season, when they staggered to a 4-7 record amid a slew of injuries and narrow defeats. Now a team light on expectations yet heavy on confidence sits one win away from a state championship after upsetting previously undefeated Cosby, 2-1, in Saturday’s Virginia 6A semifinal at Robinson.
The Wildcats advanced to Sunday’s final, where they will face Battlefield, which beat Cox, 3-1, in the other semifinal. The contest will be a rematch of the 6A North region final won by Battlefield.
“We’re the underdog every game, and we like that,” said senior forward Jenna Green, who scored both goals for the Wildcats. “Teams that are undefeated and expected to be here, they have everything to lose, and we’re going to try to keep ending people’s seasons. Our team is young and determined, and no matter what happens, I know we’re always going to come back with more.”
Centreville’s fearless play yielded a handful of early offensive opportunities, including an open look on the right side after Green pushed through the Titans’ defense and scored in the 15th minute.
The Titans served as the aggressors, piling up 21 shots on goal, but were turned away by Centreville’s physical defenders and goalie Noelle Brown, who gathered in a number of balls that bounced precariously near the net.
Sophomore Nastassia Tiangco was especially active, using her speed and power to play three different positions and atone for the absence of top player Baylee Gilmore, who sat out most of the second half with tendinitis.
Cosby nearly connected on two occasions midway through the second half, but each time the ball ricocheted off the far post and into the hands of Lane.
With the Titans threatening as time ticked down, Green gave the Wildcats (9-9) a solid cushion, gathering in a deflected free kick and depositing it into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead with less than 11 minutes to play.
One moment, her eyes widened with opportunity; in the next, Colleen Gawkins couldn’t bear to watch.
Of the Bobcats forward’s 33 goals this season, perhaps none had provided as easy an opportunity as the open-net look she had — and missed — late in the second half of Saturday’s semifinal against Cox, leading Gawkins to pull her jersey over her head in disgust as her attempt sailed over the crossbar.
The frustration ultimately served to fuel Gawkins, who sped back downfield several minutes later, maneuvered through the defense and turned a one-on-one opportunity into her second goal of the day en route to Battlefield’s second straight state final appearance.
“I was obviously frustrated after missing such an obvious goal,” Gawkins said. “I started getting down on myself, but I realized I can’t help my team if I’m stuck on what happened in the past. So I picked my head up and made the next one.”
Battlefield proved equally opportune on its corner kicks in the first half. Less than three minutes into the game, Becca Callison lofted one from the right side that Karina Lacey headed in for a goal.
In the game’s 25th minute, another Callison corner kick found its way into the middle of the box before Katherine Chang deflected the ball toward Gawkins, who headed it in to build a 2-0 lead the Bobcats would not relinquish.