Hosting a state quarterfinal for the first time in program history, Monticello girls soccer’s defense seemed to feed off the energy from a spirited, pink-clad crowd.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen even a fourth of that many people out here for a game,” said fifth-year Monticello coach Thomas Warren. “I think the composure and the technique dropped a little, but the intensity and grit amped up.”
The Mustangs punched their ticket to the state final four by taking care of business at home one last time with a 1-0 victory over Region D runner-up Lord Botetourt.
Junior goalkeeper Erin Mathews made a couple of stops in the first fifteen-and-a-half minutes, including a footrace that ended with a successful dive to cover a loose ball about 15 yards out. But more often, Mustang defenders simply beat or out-battled their Botetourt counterparts.
“For the past two games, we’ve gone in with a different mindset and we’ve been thinking more defensively,” said Monticello senior Kayla Burton. “Coach really presses defense; getting back and compacting. We had a really positive mentality tonight and our defense was what won this game. Everyone just grinded it out until the very last second.”
With Lord Botetourt’s offense stymied for much of the first half, Monticello generated a few prime looks with freshman forward Hannah Swartz on the right side that slipped just off-target.
“I really liked the way that our players were using the width and being disciplined in terms of their spacing,” Warren said. “Finding those through-balls to the wide players was creating all kinds of problems [for Botetourt]. Particularly, Hannah on the right wing probably had eight or nine crosses in the first half, to the point where they took one of their best forwards and just brought her back to play defense.”
Finally, in the 24th minute, Burton gained control approaching midfield and outsprinted multiple defenders before regathering control in the box and finding the back of the net just inside the right post.
“I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get to it in time before their other defender,” said Burton, who won the footrace to net her 27th goal of the season.
Warren, who coached Burton in a local club league before she spent her first two years of high school in Greene County, raved about tremendous progress in ball handling near the goal.
“The difference is her composure and calmness in front of goal,” Warren said. “Just for a moment, it seems like she slows down to find the nice slot into the corner. Most of her goals this year have just been passes into the corner with the goalie coming out, and that’s an evolution in her game. Last year, she was trying to take another touch to get around the goalie or just kind of blast into the chest.”
In the second half, Botetourt dialed up their aggression and kept the ball in their offensive half for a substantially longer duration, but could never deliver the equalizer. The Cavs’ best look came off a corner kick late in the 55th minute as the ball was sent out of the box right to a player running in from near midfield. A strike from about 32 yards out sailed just high over the bar.
Monticello had a couple of chances for insurance goals in the final 11 minutes. Botetourt keeper Chloe Beasley made a point-blank save when Burton tried to redirect a loose ball in the box. Then, the Mustangs thought they scored off a corner kick in the 88th minute, but they were whistled for a foul just before the score.
“In the end, I would’ve loved to have had a couple more, but one is a winner,” Warren said.
Monticello will face Region B champ Brentsville District in a Class 3 semifinal at 4pm Friday in Salem.