Playing a team for a third time is always difficult. And in the sticky heat, there was really nothing easy for anyone. With a pair of wins over Monticello already in the regular season, Western Albemarle, the defending Class 3A champions, outscored the Mustangs by a combined total of 9-0. Round three saw another shutout, but the Warriors had to work for this one a bit harder in a 2-0 win to claim a Region 3C championship, their second-straight regional title and a victory that gives them 13 straight months without a loss to a Jefferson District opponent.
“I think we started kind of frantic,” said Western’s Savannah Wilson. “Monticello came out really hard as we expected them to — they did awesome — but we started out frantic, settled down at halftime after getting a good talk and after getting the second (goal) we were just able to connect the passes and play the way we know how to play.”
Continuing a theme from the previous two meetings, the Warriors’ back line defense was as steady and dominant as its been all season. But the greater difference in round three of Western and Monticello saw the Mustangs defend their own end with a lot more success and keeping most first half shots from deep. Conversely, the Mustangs were able to get five first half shots off and make the Warriors sweat more than the first two contests.
“I’m really proud of this game, it was intense,” said Monticello coach Thomas Warren. “We came in with a strong game plan and executed on tactics. We knew that Western was going to possess more than us but if we stayed condensed in the midfield and forced them wide it was going to make the shots easier and it did.”
The Warriors got on the board just six before the break when sophomore Erin Meier sent a cross to Abigail Zimmerman who nailed a header that struck the post, ricocheted right back to her right foot as she was following through and she was able to tuck in a wide far left shot to give her team the lead.
“We talked at halftime that to win state championships you don’t always have to win pretty,” Zimmerman said. “I think following our own shots today, that was the mentality that got us the win, which is a little bit of individualistic goal but it brought us together as a team.”
Ten minutes into the second half, it was another case of a second chance strike. The Warriors were able to take full control of the game of a corner kick from Cameron Hucek as she found Savannah Wilson who tried a high kicking one-touch to knock the ball out of mid-air only to have that bounce back to her off Monticello’s defense and allow Wilson to unleash a heavy, incontestable shot into the far left side and make it 2-0.
While the Mustangs were able to put together four shots on the Warriors, the Western defense led by Shannon Moore made them work for those and did not struggle to snuff them out. Monticello was able to apply some solid pressure in the final ten minutes of the second but Western wrap up yet another shutout shortly there after.
“Being up 1-0 didn’t give us a lot of confidence,” Zimmerman said. “Getting up on Savannah’s goal, that pushed us to work more as a team afterwards, push harder on defense.”
The Warriors will get to host their Class 3A quarterfinal matchup with Lord Botetourt.
“It’s really exciting, especially for the seniors, half the team is seniors,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a really exciting year and we’re excited to try and finish it off.”
The Mustangs, who clinched their first ever trip to the state tournament on Tuesday with a Region 3C semifinal win over Spotswood, will head to Hidden Valley for their Class 3A quarterfinal. And with the win earlier in the week granting a program that’s made massive strides in the last few years an opportunity to play in the final week of the high school season, the Mustangs are excited to be on the stage with a ton of underclassmen.
“This team is growing,” Warren said. “They’ve gotten so much better since the start of the season. This is the first team to make it state tournament but if they continue to grow like this it definitely won’t be the last. We’ve got a good group of (five) seniors but the core of this team is the sophomore and freshman and the experience we’re getting right now is just going to make us better.”