Maycol Nunez wrapped his arm around Lucas Mendes and hobbled back onto the field, using his teammate as a crutch before Saturday’s final trophy presentation at Robinson. Both players were bruised and battered, each having suffered second-half injuries that put Washington-Lee on the brink against a First Colonial team gaining steam in the scorching late-afternoon heat.
Nunez’s hamstring tightened while Mendes’s leg throbbed, but neither player felt pain. Two years after falling to T.C. Williams in the state final and nearly four weeks after enduring an upset against Yorktown in the conference semifinals, Nunez and Mendes soaked up an accomplishment no Washington-Lee squad before them had touched — a state championship. The Generals pulled away from First Colonial, 3-1, to earn their long-awaited Virginia 6A crown.
“I feel blessed that we fulfilled our goal from day one,” Mendes said.
A day after his four-goal exhibition against Grassfield, Nunez again proved he could carry his team on a bad leg and with limited minutes. The senior striker tweaked his right hamstring against Grassfield and aggravated it midway through the first half Saturday, causing him to shuttle back-and-forth to the bench to stretch it out and apply ice.
Nunez showed no signs of soreness with his first goal 4 minutes 37 seconds into the game. Mimicking a similar play the day before, he shook off a tackle on the edge of the box, then cut back to beat three more defenders and, finally, the goalkeeper with a casual poke into the net.
Four minutes after a mandated water break midway through the first half, Nunez ripped a curling blast into the side netting from 18 yards out to double the Generals’ lead. He aggravated his hamstring on the cutback just before the shot, forcing him to the bench.
With Nunez out, First Colonial (19-2) pressed forward with mounting vigor, cycling in waves of substitutes four and five at a time. Finally, Zach Stearney halved Washington-Lee’s lead in the 56th minute. The senior defender swung at a bouncing ball 35 yards from goal and looked surprised to see it knuckle beautifully into the top far corner.
First Colonial continued to force the issue, but Nunez’s return with 12 minutes left breathed new life into the Generals (18-1-2). Just a minute after coming to the sideline with a minor leg injury and switching to a new pair of Nikes, Mendes crossed a defender toward the end line and delivered a Neymar-inspired rabona cross to Andrew Kamian . The forward’s shot was saved, but Benhur Gebretensaie pounced on the rebound for an insurance goal.
“It wasn’t just one or two players who wanted this. It was all 23 players,” Nunez said. “Everyone wanted it.”
The victory marked Washington-Lee’s first state title since the girls’ tennis team prevailed in 1977. For Nunez, meanwhile, the win was a tribute to his deceased grandfather, Hector, a former goalkeeper who inspired him to take up the game in his native Honduras.
“Last night before I went to bed I was just talking to my grandpa in my head,” Nunez said. “I knew my prayer was about to become a reality.”