The deck was stacked against St. Anne’s-Belfield girls soccer. For the third straight year, they headed east to face Norfolk Academy in the state tournament, a sixth-seed taking on a three-seed.
Throw in an excellent home crowd supporting the Bulldogs and a Hannah Antonick goal off a penalty kick in the 68th minute, and it seemed as if an excellent season by the Saints was about to draw to a close. With eight new starters this season, a state playoff berth in and of itself was quite an accomplishment for STAB.
Clearly it wasn’t good enough for the Saints. Instead, Alex Greer provided the equalizer off a Mo Johnson assist with 2:10 to play and after a scoreless overtime, STAB outscored Norfolk Academy 5-3 in PKs to earn the Saints’ first state final four berth since winning the state title in 2014.
“I’m really proud of the way our girls fought for all 100 minutes tonight,” said STAB coach Paddy Foss. “They had their backs against the wall, Norfolk Academy is a quality team and had tremendous support out here which made it a tough place to play.”
After Greer vaulted the Saints into overtime, it was a suggestion from Johnson, an eighth grader, that may have been the difference-maker for STAB. Johnson came to Foss with an idea after overtime — put her in net as a goalie.
“Penalties are a really tough spot for every player, but the spotlight is especially bright on the goalkeeper,” Foss said. “After overtime Mo came to me and asked that I put her in the goal. I can take absolutely no credit for that decision. To be an eighth grader and embrace that sort of responsibility is a huge testament to the competitor that she is — that kid is tough as nails.”
Johnson smothered Norfolk Academy’s fourth attempt in PKs, which made the clean finishes of all five STAB shooters — Alyssa Gonnella, Penny Shuster, Gia Woodfolk, Johnson and Sophie Martin — stand up and give STAB the win and the state tournament berth.
“This is a team that lost 8 starters from a year ago when we fell short in this same game against the same opponent on the same field,” Foss said. “So I am just really happy for these girls and amazed at how they’ve come together to put themselves in a spot to play for a state championship this weekend.”
STAB keeper Audrey Antesberger finished with nine saves on the night while facing a dynamic Norfolk Academy lineup.
The Saints will face Pope John Paul the Great, the No. 7 seed that pulled off its own major upset in a 1-0 win over Trinity Episcopal, in the state semifinals Friday at 4 p.m. in Glen Allen.