With halftime of Sunday’s Independent School League field hockey title game quickly approaching and no goals to show, St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes assistant coaches Dionna Jordan and Ali Beach arrived at a consensus.
In the early going, sending balls cleanly up the field wasn’t the Saints problem; it was having someone in decent position to collect them. They needed a cherrypicker.
“I think it should be Sapphire,” Jordan said. Beach agreed.
The ploy was intended to create opportunities for senior Sapphire Tubbs — one of the Saints’ most experienced offensive weapons and a prolific goal scorer.
Instead, Tubbs’s presence behind the last line of Holton-Arms defenders kicked open the door for Olivia Gilliam — a recent freshman call-up from junior varsity with a career total of zero varsity goals before Sunday.
Gilliam reeled two second-half scores, and the Saints (18-3-1) broke the game open late to defeat Holton-Arms 3-0 at Episcopal High in Alexandria. The win marks St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes’s 11th ISL tournament title in 12 seasons.
It was a corner — not a long ball — that set up Gilliam’s first tally. She scored in a scrum in front of the net with 20 minutes 16 seconds to play. The second came about four minutes later when she re-directed a shot into the goal.
“If it’s going straight to the goalies’ pads, I just try to take it off them and change the angle,” Gilliam said. “Either you’ll get the goal or you’ll move the goalie so a teammate can [score]. It’s not like you try to aim where you hit it. You just tap it and see where it goes.”
Holton Arms senior Katie Bergamesca will always remember that Panthers’ cardiac-run to the ISL final. Holton Arms (9-6-1) won three straight games by one goal – its quarterfinal and semifinal wins came in overtime.
“At the end, [St. Stephen’s] is an incredible team, and I don’t think they were expecting us to come out as strong as we did,” Bergamesca said. “That fire got lit, and they started shoving down in there.”
While the Saints were busy capturing the ISL title, their fate in next week’s Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament was being debated by a selection panel. St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes will travel for a first-round matchup Tuesday.
“We have this under our belts, which is a big deal for us,” Gilliam said. “Now we can just go for it in states and see how far we can get. We know that we’re not the favorites in states probably, but we can just try our hardest after this big win.”
Tubbs sees little reason to doubt her team’s ability moving forward after sweeping the ISL regular season and tournament crowns.
“We want to win the trifecta this year, so we’re already pumped and ready to go,” Tubbs said.