Last weekend, it took penalty kicks for the St. John's girls' soccer team to overcome Paul VI and earn a WCAC title. On Saturday, the Cadets endured another nail-biting path to a trophy, this time against Sidwell Friends in the District of Columbia State Athletic Association championship.
On a chilly evening at Georgetown University, the No. 1-seeded Cadets (15-1-1) twice saw their lead erased by a spirited Sidwell team. It took junior Maliah Morris's powerful strike late in the first period of overtime for St. John's to break through and earn a 3-2 win over the Quakers (11-6) for their second DCSAA title in as many years.
"It was amazing," Morris said of the win. "We've worked so hard for this in and out of practice, and it's just amazing to finish the year off with [the DCSAA title]."
At first, it looked like it might be an easy win for St. John's. Less than a minute into the game, Grace Walsh won the ball in midfield for the Cadets and found Morris with a clever through ball on the right side of the box. Morris drew Quakers goalkeeper Brooke Harrington off her line, then sent the ball across the box for Meaghan O'Donovan to score a simple tap-in.
Quickly, though, Sidwell made it clear that it wasn't a team to be taken lightly. Despite coming in as the No. 7 seed, the Quakers were compact on defense and fearless going forward, attacking the WCAC champions frequently and enjoying better possession for large stretches of the first half. With 23 minutes remaining before the break, they drew level off a header from forward Nicole Willing, who had been an offensive threat for much of the game.
Six minutes into the second half, St. John's again took the lead as Morris found Nicole Lawson in a play nearly identical to the opening goal. But the Quakers responded almost immediately, capitalizing on an indirect free kick inside the box, after an apparent back pass from a defender was handled by Cadets goalkeeper Caitlin Bierwirth.
Finally, in the dying minutes of the first sudden-death overtime period, Morris unleashed a shot that sailed over Quakers goalkeeper Brooke Harrington and into the back of the net.
"I just wanted to do it for the seniors," Morris explained. "I was like, 'I'm going to take this shot and see how it goes.'"
For O'Donovan, also a junior, the team's closeness was a key factor in their winning campaign. "I think this is the closest our team has been in a really long time, and I think it definitely showed on the field," she explained.
After falling behind midway through the second half against St. Alban's (11-8-2) despite having much of the possession, Gonzaga (16-6-3) equalized in the dying minutes of regulation to tie the DCSAA boys' soccer championship at 1-1. Following two scoreless sudden-death overtime periods, goalkeeper Nick Gerlach made an all-important save to give the Eagles — who last week captured the WCAC championship — a 5-4 win on penalty kicks.
"We just had to keep playing the way we were playing," Gonzaga Coach Scott Waller said, emphasizing his team's possession of the ball throughout the game. "We knew it'd be tough, so we just did the best we could."