Junior Catalina Lennon describes her late-game goal, which helped Atholton secure a 1-0 win.
Neither the scorer or her coach could remember much about the goal that ended Atholton’s regional drought on Thursday night.
Coach Stephanie Stoutenborough knows one of her players won the ball at midfield, but she doesn’t know who was dribbling. The ball then made its away towards the left sideline and into Reservoir’s defensive third, and at that moment, Stoutenborough recalled seeing junior Catalina Lennon “basically wide open” in the middle.
While the sequence was hazy for Lennon “because it happened so fast,” she knew exactly what happened next. Junior Caroline Morton played her the ball near the 20-yard line, and Lennon saw an opening to shoot. She took one touch, “leaned back really far and swung it really hard” towards the net.
With about 14 minutes left, the shot sneaked just past the goalkeeper and under the top crossbar for the game’s only tally, which propelled Atholton to a 1-0 triumph in the 3A East, Section I final.
“These girls have really worked hard,” Stoutenborough said. “They really deserve it.”
Atholton (11-3) will next play for its first region title since 2004 and only second ever since the school opened in 1966. The Raiders play host to Chesapeake (AA) on Tuesday.
“We’ve just been motivated since the beginning of playoffs,” Lennon said. “We really wanted to go out really hard, and we think now that we have a really good chance of going to states.”
Stoutenborough said the program has been similar positions plenty during her 16-year tenure but has struggled to break through. She couldn’t think of how many times Atholton has lost in this spot before adding “it’s been a lot.”
The Raiders have faltered as the top seed each of the past two seasons. In 2015, they went 9-2 in county play before bowing out in their opening playoff game. They won the league crown last year with a 9-1-1 mark, only to suffer a one-goal defeat against Centennial in the 3A South, Section II final.
The top seed in 3A East this season, Atholton avenged that loss to the Eagles by scoring five goals in a 5-1 playoff win Tuesday. It seized seemingly every scoring opportunity, keeping its opponent off balance with nifty passes and quick shots. Centennial couldn’t keep up.
Thursday’s match unfolded much differently. The Raiders created scoring opportunities, both in the run of play and from set pieces, throughout the first half but went into halftime without a goal.
“We weren’t taking smart shots,” Stoutenborough said. “We were taking them from far out or just wild shots. We weren’t concentrating. We weren’t playing the through balls like we did against Centennial to earn the goals.”
The Raiders produced six shots on goal in the opening 40 minutes, all of which either dribbled or soared right into the hands of Reservoir goalkeeper Lizzie Dudzinski (10 saves).
After a spirited halftime pep talk, Lennon said her team came out more aggressive after intermission. She thought the Raiders improved their passes and shot selections. They continued to press, pushing even harder than earlier in the match, and weren’t as flustered with the physical play that resulted in three yellow cards.
Still, they couldn’t score, and the match by that point had somewhat evened out. Reservoir freshman Katherin Parris and junior Blair Vant Hoff each made runs towards goal, putting pressure the Raiders defense and Bryce Bathras (two saves). It seemed the Gators (9-6-1) were gaining momentum as the game remained 0-0.
Facing the goal with the ball at her feet, Lennon saw Dudzinski come off her line just far enough to warrant a loft shot. She knew her right-footed strike wasn’t high enough that it would cleared the cross bar. She just hoped she’d hit it high enough.
What happened next was crystal clear for Lennon, who saw the ball soar inches over Dudzinski’s fingertips and into the back of the net.
“We all just freaked out and it was really exciting,” Lennon said. “We all came together.”
Parker Holbrook and Matt Palmisano each had two goals and Cole Fisher scored once to lift the Dragons into the MIAA C Conference championship game Sunday at 1 p.m. Ryan Clemons added two assists and Jacob Schiller and Peter Karabatis had one apiece.