Being the new kids on the block was, admittedly, a little scary at first for Freedom-South Riding senior Mallory Ullrich. After long competing in the Virginia AA Dulles District and reaching the district semifinals last spring, the Eagles moved up to the AAA Cedar Run District because of the school’s growing enrollment.
Freedom had new opponents from outside Loudoun County, a new coach in Amanda Heins and new talent on its roster.
Yet on Friday night against No. 3 Battlefield — an older, established kid on the block with a AAA semifinal appearance last spring on its résumé — No. 10 Freedom played a calm and confident style of soccer. It was good enough to earn the Eagles a 2-1 win at home and a little bit of vindication.
“We’re always the underdog,” Ullrich said. “Of course we had our worries going into it, being a smaller school going into it, but we put in the hard work to do it.”
Freedom’s victory came thanks to the right foot of sophomore Taylor Gaunt. With the score tied at 1-1, Gaunt made a last-gasp effort in the 78th minute to avoid overtime. She dribbled the ball to the top right part of the penalty box, and from nearly 18 yards away, fired a shot at the goal from a wide angle, freezing Battlefield’s defense.
“I didn’t think it was going in, to tell you the truth,” Gaunt said. “But once I got that goal I almost started crying, it was so great. . . . We only had a few minutes left. I had to take a chance.”
Up to that point, the evenly-matched teams played each other well. Freedom (7-0-1, 2-0) scored first in the 11th minute on a header by sophomore Arnelle Collins, set up by a stellar ball from Ullrich. As she dribbled down the left wing, Ullrich fired a shot across her body only inches from the out-of-bounds line and around a Battlefield defender.
Collins barely had to move to head the ball in. “We’ve practiced that,” Ullrich said.
Battlefield (5-1-1, 1-1) equalized eight minutes later on a tremendous shot by junior Bri Toelle, who fired a shot from a sharp angle about 12 yards out that hit the top crossbar and somehow curled down into the goal.
Both teams would have opportunities to pull ahead — missed shots and a penalty kick — until Gaunt’s winner.
But for the Eagles, much remains. Their next game is Tuesday against Patriot, fittingly a new school and another new experience for Freedom.
“It is working out for us,” Ullrich said. “We still have a lot ahead.”