Operating under the expectation that you’re going to win a state title isn’t easy. When opposing coaches as early as March are saying it’ll be surprising if you don’t repeat, there’s a unique pressure tucked into what sounds like praise.
It’s a pressure that can be all-consuming and can tear a team apart. Or it can pull you together, and if it pulls you together for long enough, you can create a legacy.
“We had to stay as a team and stay as positive as possible for this to happen,” said Western Albemarle girls soccer senior Abby Zimmerman.
Western established a legacy Saturday, rolling 4-0 over Brentsville to wrap up a second-straight state title as part of a dominant, unscored-upon romp through the state tournament where the most stout test came at the hands of Lord Botetourt in the state quarterfinals.
Saturday it took a little while for the first goal to come. But considering the dominance on defense spearheaded by senior Shannon Moore and junior Julia Berg in front of goalie Bailey Wood who faced just a single chance from the Tigers, once it did, the Warriors appeared confident they had a win locked up. The goal came with 10:30 left in the first half. Erin Meier unleashed a corner kick and it went right at the near post where it connected with senior Jane Romness, the 2017 state player of the year, who headed it off the keeper and in for a 1-0 lead. Even Wood sprinted up to celebrate, because it was clear in that moment that something had almost surely been decided and, for Romness, something was coming to a close.
“My last game in my soccer career and it’s so unreal and such a good way to end an amazing year,” Romness said. “The first goal really was a big thing for us because (Brentsville) dropped their heads right after.”
Capitalizing on some opportunities became paramount for Western after the state quarterfinal scare against Botetourt that was deadlocked at 0-0 until a late Ellie Cox goal despite Western owning possession.
“Two games ago it became real to use that we have to finish our opportunities or we’re going to result in a game that comes down to 1-0 or 0-0,” Zimmerman said. “We had people like Katrine Berg and Erin Meier who have really pulled through for us this year and they scored some big goals for us.”
Romness’ goal had to hold up for awhile in the second half before the Warriors could extend the lead as they played 28 minutes of incredibly dominant possession soccer to start the second half but couldn’t find a goal. Shot after shot and chance after chance came up empty, but it mattered little because Brentsville simply couldn’t get the ball past midfield.
“We’ve struggled with that over the season but we finally get to a goal at some point. It may be hard but we end up finishing,” Romness said. “I think the big score yesterday was really big coming into it because we were really confident and we knew we’d earned it.”
On goal kicks, three Western players were up near the box, locking off any short outlet passes, and beyond them the midfield including Savannah Wilson and the defense were way up, determined to keep the ball in Western’s attacking half. That’s when some of the team’s less-heralded but critical players like senior Cameron Hucek stepped up, jamming potential Brentsville advances on the wing before they really become runs.
The finishes Romness mentioned did come, with Julia Berg scoring with 12:12 to play before Katrine Berg tacked on one of her own just a minute later.
There was a moment in the closing minute where Brentsville’s coach Sonny Barrickman wanted to get a couple of players in and asked Western coach Jake Desch to have the Warriors kick the ball out of bounds so he could substitute. Desch obliged quickly, a nod to civility and respect on a stage where that doesn’t always rule the day. If Western is lucky, perhaps that will also become a part of the program’s legacy from this stretch of success.
The Western seniors certainly knew that legacy was at stake Saturday, even after winning a championship last year and finally beating Albemarle after three years for these seniors of struggling at the hands of the Patriots. Even with all those wins, Saturday was a final test and it seemed to be absolutely critical that Western passed it, a runner-up finish simply wouldn’t do for the Warriors’ seniors.
“We definitely left a legacy, we definitely left a mark on this program and we hope that they continue it,” Hucek said. “We’ve been looking for a second straight championship and with eight seniors we were really all in. We just wanted to get this win not just for us but the team in general because we wanted to leave with a statement.”
They did just that, making a statement about dominance. A statement about performing under the highest expectations. A statement about finishing the job.