It was not for a lack of effort. Making a third straight trip to the Class 5A semifinals, the Albemarle girls soccer team did its best to contain a physically gifted Briar Woods team. But the Falcons, led by James Madison bound Abby Maltese, simply found a way. After scoring on a truly impressive outside shot in the first half, Briar Woods was able to put Albemarle away for good with a breakaway goal late in the second to pick up a 2-0 win.
“This is the best team we’ve played all year,” said Falcons coach Kimmy Moss. “Albemarle, obviously they’re the defending champs and graduated a lot from last year, but they’re still this phenomenal team. They’re the real deal and so we knew that coming in. We knew they would be physical and technical that we had to match that and show off what we do. We have a style to our physicality and today we executed and showed a lot of heart.”
Between Maltese, Caitlyn Bryant who’s headed to the UMBC and Annie Sorando going to UNC Charlotte, the Patriots did their best to keep the Falcons gifted attack from getting any easy shots. Albemarle succeeded in that department but with 10 minutes left in the first half, Maltese ripped a shot from 30 yards out from the right sideline and bent in a perfectly placed shot to break the tie.
“I knew we needed one quick, that the longer we went without a goal the harder the game was going to get,” Maltese said. “We were talking a lot early on about just getting shots, no matter what kind, just testing out the goalkeeper and the defense. That’s why I took that one.”
In the second half, the Patriots caught a break when Bryant hit the right post on a breakaway. Minutes later senior captain Madison Kersey came up with an impressive defensive stop to steal another goal from Bryant.
“Our defense was just phenomenal today,” said Albemarle coach Amy Sherrill. “I know they’re gassed. To hold that team that has so much power, so much collegiate talent at bay for as long as we did, it was just a tremendous effort. We’re not hanging our heads about this one at all.”
But with seven minutes and change to go, Maltese found Bryant on a breakaway and her shot trickled through after an initial save.
“It was great to see her get that one after working so hard all game,” Maltese said. “I think that kept the momentum really going.”
While the Patriots had equal possession and spent plenty of time on Briar Woods’ side of the field, getting a clean look at the net proved difficult. Albemarle earned a pair of corners in the second half but the Falcons defense was poised on both opportunities.
“We play with three girls in the back and they all played incredible today,” Moss said. “They take a lot of pride in what they do”
For Albemarle, the loss marks a passing of the torch. The Patriots graduate eight seniors many of whom have been along for all three final four appearance.
“This senior class has given us everything,” Sherrill said. “They are the most playoff experienced group we’ve ever had getting here three times and winning the state title last year. I mean we’re obviously going to miss them.”
Albemarle returns Fizzy Gonzalez, Megan Schantz, Makinna Winterton, Maggie McMullin and keeper Jaya Daniel next year.
“We’ve got a lot coming back and to have a freshman goalkeeper get this kind of playoff experience, we’re pretty excited about what we’ll be able to do next year,” Sherrill said.
Briar Woods will play Freedom in the Class 5A championship game on Saturday.