River Hill girls soccer holds on to beat Calvert and win 2A state title
Holding on to a one-goal lead against Calvert with under a minute to play and a 2A state title on the line, a young River Hill defense needed to make one last defensive stand Saturday at Ridley Athletic Complex.
"Coach [Brian] Song always says we bend but we don't break and that philosophy carries through strong with our defense," said River Hill defensive back Carly Wetzel. "We were so close in that last few minutes so we knew we had to fight for it and do whatever it takes to keep our lead and stay strong. I give credit to the girls that they all did and they fought hard."
The Hawks (14-3-2) conceded two corners and a free kick in those last remaining seconds, but they did not break, as they held on to the 2-1 victory to clinch their fourth state title in five years.
"It honestly means so much because we did want it so bad coming after last year's [second round playoff] loss, but this group of girls we're starting a new tradition now and the win this year we worked so hard for it and all the hard work has paid off now," Wetzel added. "We wanted it so bad since the beginning of the season and said we were going to be here and now we are."
River Hill was propelled by a dominating first-half. The Hawks scored both of their goals within the first 30 minutes of play, as they kept most of the action in the Cavaliers (12-5) defensive third of the field.
Brigette Wang facilitated River Hill's first goal of the game with about 25 minutes left in the half. The sophomore beat her defender down the line, cut the ball back and played a pass in to the box to sophomore Ashlee Hamer. Hamer turned and sailed a lofted shot over the head of Cavaliers goalkeeper Patty Massie (two saves) and into the left netting to put her team up, 1-0.
"I was trying to get the ball in there, get it in the mix just so she could score," Wang said. "So I played a cross in – it was a left-footed cross. I was trying to get it in the air, but it didn't quite get there. It got to her feet and she scored – so I think it worked out."
Wang helped River Hill with its second goal eight minutes later, winning a free kick about 15 yards outside the left edge of the box.
Megan Chun stepped up and delivered a perfect service atop of the six, finding the head of Adriana Zakel who knocked her team's second goal of the night and ultimately giving the Hawks the 2-0 advantage at the half.
"When I was going in to my free kick I really knew where I wanted the ball, so it was all about execution," Chun said. "It was really exciting because we haven't gotten [many] goals off of set plays, so getting one to finish the season in the state championships with a young sophomore Adriana Zakel was great."
Calvert made some adjustments out of the break, which initiated more offense in the following 40 minutes.
"Unfortunately River Hill was a little bit more disciplined in the midfield. They played well there, where we weren't as disciplined in the midfield," said Cavaliers coach John Baker. "Then getting down by two goals we knew we had to get in to the attack, which we know we can. We will score goals. So we decided at halftime to shift in to one-holder, two-attackers and three-forwards to get forward a little more and to be able to go at the goal a little bit more and it worked. We pretty much controlled that second half we just couldn't get that second one in."
Calvert doubled its chances on net in the second half and finally broke through with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
After earning a free kick just outside the 18, senior Sydney Watson sent her shot toward the left side of the frame. Hawks sophomore goalkeeper Jules Grasso (two saves) dove and got her hands on the attempt, but it wasn't enough to steer it away from goal, as the ball ricocheted off the post and in to the net, cutting the lead, 2-1.
"I think it was important to get their heads back into the game that we are now back into the game, one goal down," Watson said. "I think it definitely changed their mindset. It was just a little too late."
The Cavaliers pressed in the remaining minutes and got deep in the Hawks defensive end, finally earning back-to-back corners with under a minute to go.
River Hill had trouble clearing the ball away from inside the box and with 30 seconds ticking down, Calvert earned one last free kick – nearly the same exact spot where Watson had scored 10 minutes earlier. But with time expiring Watson quickly put a shot on frame, which Grasso caught to solidify the one-goal win.
"I knew the time was running out and fortunately the ball went to the same place the first goal went and so, if I could have placed it better than odds would have probably gone our way," Watson said. "It's really frustrating, because not necessarily we waited that long to have those set pieces, but it seemed like all of sudden we got all that energy that we were trying to push it, push it, push it and it probably should have happened earlier, finishing more, realizing that we can get up there and we can get it. We can do that. So yeah it's frustrating, but I wouldn't want to play this game with any other group of girls."
It has been an impressive run for the Hawks defensive unit, who has gone 10-1-1 after switching Grasso – their starting center back – into the net, and switching up their entire back line.
"My back four – Carly normally plays center mid… I give credit to Dani [Poindexter] she usually plays on the outside and she accepted that role. I put a freshman in because [Poindexter] was moved to sweeper and Sophia [Elguera] played right back. She had an unbelievable season," Song said. "I think the encouragement from these girls [Chun, Wang, Tran and Wetzel] supported the cast very well this year."
It was the 11th state title for River Hill, as they improved to a perfect 11-0 in the state championship game.
The young Hawks, who don't have a single senior on the roster, were led by junior captains Wetzel, Chun and Victoria Tran, who were also apart of River Hill's state title winning team in 2014.
"It definitely does [feel different] because as a freshman to a junior you definitely have a different role and you experience more leadership with the team," Chun said. "So it's honestly been great with Vic and Carly and the other girls leading the team this year."
After a disappointing exit in the second round of last year's playoffs, the Hawks were determined to have a bounce-back season in 2016.
"How we left the season last year put a bitter taste in their months and saying, 'Hey we have to do better than that.' So I give credit to all the girls, all 20 that are on our team," added Song. "This is the first time in my career I didn't have any seniors at River Hill. It is tough for the juniors to carry the leadership not just on the field – I give credit to the three captains and in the same token… the 17 girls who followed them."