Laila Graywished she could say she planned her first goal in Friday’s Virginia AAA Northern Region girls’ soccer championship, the ball’s trajectory bending in a way that left even Chantilly Coach Melissa Bibbee in awe. But for as common as a Gray score has become this postseason, when her long chip shot soared into the top right corner of the net, it resulted in perhaps her most animated celebration of the season, her legs churning as she pumped her fists toward the crowd in Chantilly.
“I was mind-blown,” Gray said. “I’d like to say I was aiming for the upper 90 [degree] area of the goal but I was trying to go back post and it just happened the other way.”
The score proved the first of many things to celebrate for Gray and the Chargers, who held off Yorktown, 2-1, to win their first region title since 2009, a year that also marked their first state title. Chantilly will host Colonial Forge while Yorktown takes on Battlefield in Tuesday’s state quarterfinals.
“The girls showed a lot of heart and the fact that we were able to finish two goals today made the difference,” said Bibbee, her team just two days removed from a dramatic shootout victory in the region semifinal. “And wow, Laila’s goal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ball hit the upper triangle like that.”
Following a scoreless first half, the Chargers (14-2-3) took the field with the wind behind them. The positioning likely made for some of Gray’s confidence when she set up for her 20-yard shot from the left side in the 46th minute.
“On my first glance, I saw the goalie had moved up to the near post, so I tried to get the ball out as fast as I could to the back post for a shot at the goal,” said Gray, who has 19 goals on the season.
Using the resolve that had helped them win 18 straight games and knock off top-ranked Stone Bridge two nights before, Yorktown (19-2-0) struck back. A streaking Meghan Flynn took the ball down the left side, faking past the goalie before recording her area-high 29th goal to tie the score in the 50th minute.
The waning moments of the contest saw both teams get open looks at the net. But while Yorktown came up short, Gray was able to turn a Sammie Shiflette pass into another goal. The junior forward weaved through traffic for the game-winner in the 56th minute.
●FALCONS WIN IN OT: In the AA Region II championship, Briar Woods outlasted Woodgrove in the third overtime period for a 1-0 victory. McKensey Ziegler headed in a goal off a Rayven Conner corner to lift the Falcons after nearly 95 minutes of play, securing their first region title and avenging last week’s 3-0 loss to the Wolverines in the Dulles District final.
“In my 16 years of coaching, I have never experienced a team like this one where everybody wants it so bad and is willing to lay it all on the line,” Falcons Coach Ann Vierkorn said. “They literally worked every inch of that field and I’m so proud of them.”
Briar Woods will host Jamestown in Tuesday’s state quarterfinals while Woodgrove will travel to play Courtland.
●MUSTANGS WIN NO. 6: In the A Region B title game, George Mason captured its sixth straight crown with a 2-0 victory against Stuarts Draft. Freshman Kate Mills put the Mustangs up in the first half off a pinpoint cross from Ava Roth. Then, midway through the second half, Hailey Thomas booted a 30-yard free kick into the top part of the net.
“The team we played was in their first region final, so they had a lot of motivation, but we went out and started attacking pretty quickly,” Mustangs Coach Jennifer Parsons said. “We kept possession for most of the game and created a lot of scoring opportunities, and I think that was the difference.”
The Mustangs begin their state title defense in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, when they host King William.
●BOBCATS EMERGE: Battlefield wrapped up its third straight AAA Northwest Region title, besting Colonial Forge, 3-0 at home.