Just two days after surrendering 17 goals to Charlottesville, Western Albemarle needed a jumpstart defensively in its Region 4A West opener against Hanover.
“We challenged our guys to just come out and play hard, especially on defense, get pressure on the ball,” said Western coach Alex Whitten. “We thought about trying to play zone again but we came out straight up in man-to-man and played well and got on them.”
With the defense locking down the Hawks, Western cruised to a 17-3 victory and moved just one win away from a state final four berth.
The Warriors’ defense helped create some offense too by picking up a ton of ground balls. Faceoff man Wilson Kelly and longstick midfielder Jake Wilson snagged five ground balls each while Sam Stalford picked up four.
The offense capitalized, with James Buetow and A.J. Donovan’s hat tricks leading the way. Donovan, who suffered a knee injury in early May last season, gives Western a big boost in the midfield on the offensive end.
“You’ve got to have an offensive threat to draw the slide and move the ball,” Whitten said. “And he’s a good shooter too. He’s had a real impactful last couple of games.”
Donovan’s ability to threaten and push the pace gives Western’s offense an element is was missing last year in the postseason. They had that torrential, dynamic pace against the Hawks.
“Our offense just played fast, they handled the ball well, took good shots,” Whitten said. “Our shooting percentage was really high tonight which is good.”
Western’s John Carr Haden, always a reliable goal scorer, showed signs of expanding his impact as a playmaker with three assists. Freshman Sam Stalford also got rolling with two goals and three assists while Jarrett Smith scored twice.
“We need components at this point in time to step up and make plays,” Whitten said. “Jimmy Buetow is shooting the ball well, Sam Stalfort is playing well and John Carr is shooting well. We’ve got a lot of guys producing which is what we need.”
Western advances to the region semifinals where they’ll travel to E.C. Glass Tuesday with a state final four berth on the line.