It was no secret that there was a particular challenge accompanying Western Albemarle’s quest to win the Region 3C boys’ soccer title.
Just 48 hours before the title game on Friday, the Warriors had played an extremely intense, highly competitive and incredibly emotional game against Charlottesville in the region semifinals. Western emerged victorious with a 3-0 win, and avenged an earlier 1-0 loss against the Black Knights in the regular season.
But the match required a substantial amount of energy and effort on the part of the Western players. With a region final against a tough Spotswood team on the imminent horizon, the critical question was whether the Warriors could bring the same level of focus and energy into the title game just two days later.
At Rockingham Park Friday, that question got an answer. Western fought hard from start to finish but ultimately surrendered three goals and fell 3-0 against Spotswood, spelling an unfortunate end to Western’s great season.
“The longer I have the chance to think about it, maybe I’ll look back and say, ‘yeah we ran out of gas,” said Western Albemarle head coach Milo Oakland. “The reality is that they were good and we got beat. I don’t really want to make excuses.”
Excuses aside, Western played well in the first half. The Warriors had a substantial advantage in time of possession early in the game, spending much more time with the ball on Spotswood’s half. Despite controlling the ball for more time, it was Spotswood who came closer to scoring first on just a few quick plays that resulted in quality chances.
Spotswood senior Esau Zelaya was a force for the Trailblazers, consistently challenging Western’s defense.
Just over midway through the first half, Western freshman Jamey Williamson put a shot on goal from outside the box, but it was saved easily by Spotswood goalkeeper Andrew Foltz. Western managed just a few shots that threatened to score. Spotswood seemed to be just a hair faster than Western, beating the Warriors to 50-50 balls and intercepting Western’s passes.
Western’s best chance at a goal came on a free kick that bounced around in the box a few times before Xavier Mehta got a decent foot on it but sent it just a few feet over the crossbar.
With five minutes left in the first half, there was an extended timeout for an injured Spotswood player. Both teams came out of the timeout and played aggressively, each side looking to notch that pivotal first goal just before the halftime break. Less than a minute later, Zelaya made a run up the left side, beating multiple Western defenders before crossing it to a wide open Nick Johnson, who easily put the ball past Western goalie Ryan Marks to give Spotswood the 1-0 lead.
“I think that speaks to the emotional and mental fatigue that we may have experienced,” Oakland said. “They were coming at us but we were holding on. The moment that one goal came in you could kind of just tell that everything that we had been holding onto and fighting with kind of went away.”
Western had plenty of time to score an equalizer and early in the second half, the Warriors had decent chances to do so.
Junior Sam Vigilante made a brilliant run up the right side from the defensive line and crossed the ball into the box but it was deflected out. Vigilante drew a red card shortly after that and that in turn the Warriors were down a man for the remainder of the game, making the already difficult task of getting past the quick and physical Spotswood defense that much harder.
“There was still a lot of time left at that point, but we just didn’t really have the fight in us today,” Oakland added. “And I’m not sure that the red card would’ve made a difference.”
A few minutes later, Spotswood senior Joe Shulgan got loose on a run to the front of the box on a through ball. Marks attempted to come up and make a play on the ball but it deflected off of his head and got behind him. Shulgan kept running and punted the ball into the top of the net from close range to make it 2-0.
Five minutes later, Spotswood tacked on another goal on a deep through ball that Alan Velasco-Labra collected and deposited in the back of the net to make it 3-0. Even with 28 minutes left on the clock, that goal seemed like the nail in the coffin for Western Albemarle.
To their credit, Western never gave up. The Warriors continued to play aggressively and try to find a hole in the Spotswood defense. The Trailblazers were a brick wall, however, and playing with a multi-goal lead and a man-advantage, Spotswood never let anything through.
The victory was especially gratifying for Spotswood, as the new region champs had fallen at the hands of Western in the region playoffs multiple times in the last few years. It also ended the prep careers of a strong senior class for the Warriors.
“It’s a special one,” Oakland said of his senior class. “There are 10 of them this year. They’ve always worked so hard, giving their best, had a good attitude, been good sports, really good competitors. It’s a special class that I’ll remember.”