River Hill senior midfielder Vic Tran describes herself as emotionless before games. She has been through it all before, so no moment on or off the field fazes her.
It makes her the perfect player to turn to in the pressure situations with the game on the line, which is exactly what happened Saturday night in a 2A state semifinal game against Fallston.
“All my teammates ask me before games if I’m nervous or if I’m excited, and it’s like, not really. I don’t really feel much,” Tran said. “I think that came to my advantage when I took the penalty kick.”
After the Hawks pressured the Cougars time and time again for 77 minutes, the outcome was decided by a foul on junior forward Brigette Wang in the box with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left. Tran calmly placed the ensuing penalty kick into the bottom left corner for the game’s only score, and River Hill held on to win, 1-0, on its home turf to advance to the 2A state championship game for the second straight year.
The defending state champion Hawks (16-2) will play either Hereford or Winters Mill at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday. It’s the 12th time they have advanced to the state championship game, where they are 11-0 all-time.
“We practice penalty kicks at the end of every practice, which started back in July for them in their summer practices,” River Hill coach Brian Song said. “I knew where she was going and you see the goalie, it doesn’t matter, no one is going to stop her shot when she’s on it.”
Tran also ended Fallston’s season a year ago in the same state semifinal round, scoring in double overtime in a 1-0 victory. The Cougars (10-7-2), who won the state title in 2015 and lost in the final in 2014, never expected to be back in the final four as regional champions. They started the year 2-6 but rebounded to win 10 of their next 12 games.
Both coaches said it was “unfortunate” that the game was decided by a penalty.
“One call determined the game, but they played their butts off,” Fallston coach Carlie Andrews said. “It’s hard that somebody else determined this game. The girls had a heck of a run — they had one home game, they’ve been road warriors all season from Day 1. It’s unfortunate; it was the same story last year. I don’t think it’s always fair how it goes.”
River Hill dominated the first half. Fallston didn’t have a touch inside the final 20 yards of the field until nearly halfway through the opening half, while the Hawks consistently pushed toward goal. But they failed to breakthrough on the score sheet and headed to the second half scoreless.
River Hill junior forward Jules Grasso got behind the Cougars backline with 32:40 left, but her shot trickled off the right post. It epitomized the game as a whole for the Hawks, who couldn’t string together the final pass.
“I thought we played well, but I think the opportunities we had we didn’t take advantage of it,” Song said. “When I digest it tonight and afterward, we knocked the ball well, we possessed the ball well, we just couldn’t get that last touch in the final third. It was one too long or one too many touches.”
Fallston’s confidence continued to grow as the game wore on until the penalty in the left side of the box was called.
Tran admitted that as she approached the ball, a “wave of panic” overcame her. You wouldn’t have been able to tell by her goal.
“Assistant coach Amy Song from the sideline just yelled at me, ‘just like you do in practice every day.’ I heard the Fallston girls saying, ‘she’s going left,’ but it was all a tactic, just saying random things,” Tran said. “I shut them out and didn’t care. I just did what I always do.”
The Hawks now head to the state championship game riding a 16-game winning streak after losing their first two games of the season to Good Counsel and McDonogh. They are averaging more than 3.5 goals per game and have allowed only 11 tallies in 18 games.
They are also looking to repeat as state champions for the seventh time in program history.
“I think the girls know the tradition, the girls know what they want,” Song said. “It makes my job a little easier, and having Megan [Chun], Vic and Carly [Wetzel] doesn’t hurt either. Their leadership and their guidance, they know the methodical steps of what the team needs to do how to prepare yourself and push each other. I think we’ll be ready.”