South County soccer is again undefeated, but this season has offered challenges

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On the surface, this season has been similar to last year’s for the South County girls’ soccer team. The Stallions – the 2021 Class 6 champions – will again enter the state playoffs with an undefeated record and a region title in hand.

But the story of this season has been distinctive and full of twists for South County. Whereas the squad lucked out in terms of injuries last spring, the program has had to test its depth this year.

“We were so fortunate last year – it was maybe an ankle sprain here and there,” Coach Nina Pannoni said. “This year, it’s been a lot. In the semifinal region, we had a torn ACL; on senior night, we had a broken collarbone. We’ve had to develop the next-man-up mentality. They’ve been a resilient group. ”

Even Pannoni has missed games, stepping away for three weeks for a family matter.

“They’ve really been player-led and done a great job of holding each other accountable,” she said. “They’ve stepped up so much when they need to. … Their ability to read each other and connect with each other has been great. ”

You would never know the Stallions were dealing with any kind of hardship by looking at their region final performance Friday, when they pounded Alexandria City, 5-0. They set the tone with a goal in the first three minutes.

South County was one of six local girls’ teams to take home a region championship last week. Patriot won the Class 6 Region B bracket with a shootout win over rival Battlefield. Yorktown, the 2019 state champion, captured Class 6 Region C with a 1-0 win against Oakton. Briar Woods beat Potomac Falls, 2-0, to win Class 5 Region D. Tuscarora topped Broad Run, 1-0, in Class 4 Region C. And Brentsville District beat Meridian, 2-1, in Class 3 Region B.

The score from Meridian’s Virginia Class 4 semifinal loss last year includes a big number, but Coach Courtney Gibbons has struggled to forget it. The Mustangs fell to Dominion, 19-3.

That defeat has motivated the Mustangs over the past year as they’ve progressed, defeating Class 6 semifinalist Yorktown and Bishop O’Connell of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. On Tuesday night, Meridian will judge how far it has come when it meets Dominion in a Class 4 semifinal again.

“We consistently talk in practice about prepping for teams like Dominion,” Gibbons said. “Continually working throughout the season on our stick work and just putting in extra work like shooting and running, et cetera – just to be ready for a team that is at Dominion’s level.”

This spring, the Mustangs (17-1) won their third regional title and are seeking their second state crown after their 2017 championship win over Riverside. All but one of Meridian’s wins have come by double digits, but Dominion, the two-time defending champion, will be one of its toughest opponents.

“Our maturity level is up, which definitely helps,” Gibbons said. “We have eight seniors this year, and they’ve all had a goal since they came into high school that they wanted to win like the 2017 team.”

As Woodgrove’s season began, Coach Joe Spicer saw winning the regional playoffs as a nice goal for the Wolverines.

“Last year we got knocked out of the regionals and I said: ‘Everybody’s back. We got a lot of depth, multiple pitchers. … If we can keep our focus and battle every single night, we got a chance to make a nice run at the end of the season, ‘”he said.

Woodgrove (23-2), which was bounced from last year’s regional playoffs by Stone Bridge, got revenge on the Bulldogs on Friday with a 3-0 victory to take home the Virginia Class 5 Region D title. Abbey Lane stifled Stone Bridge, tossing a no-hitter.

“[Lane’s] really good at hitting her spots, and she moved the ball around real well that night, ”Spicer said. “When they did hit the ball, generally it was right at someone or pretty weakly hit.”

Woodgrove next turns its attention to the state tournament, where it hosts Clover Hill in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

Many public schools are looking for ways to grow their programs, but a common obstacle is finding practice courts that are available consistently. For schools that do not have private courts, depending on public ones can be dicey.

Jackson-Reed (formerly Wilson) has been relying on public courts at Fort Reno Park in Northwest Washington for regular practices. Coach Christine Dooley said damaged courts and limited availability pose a big challenge.

“They’re in really horrible condition, and we only have two courts reserved for us – and we had 50 kids try out for tennis this year,” Dooley said. “There’s a lot of talent, but our courts – the nets are ripped and the courts have massive cracks in them.”

Even for schools with well-maintained courts, public school teams often share their facilities with the community, meaning consistent availability can be hard to enforce. Jeanise Rosado, the girls’ coach at Independence, said confusion about whether members of the public can play on school courts has caused several confrontations.

“The community, they think they can come in and they own the court,” Rosado said. “The last thing I ever want to do is turn anyone away from a sport that I love. … But then it just takes the one time that someone comes in and vandalizes it and doesn’t respect it, and then that’s more money, that’s more strain on the school. ”

Despite the challenges, Jackson-Reed won the girls’ and boys’ doubles titles at the DC Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament, and Bella DeLuise of Independence will compete for the girls’ singles title at this weekend’s Virginia state championships.

On Monday, Victoria Matthews begins her amateur season at the Lanto Junior Championship, where she is set to play 54 holes over four days at Blacksburg Country Club. A nationally ranked golfer, the rising senior does not compete for a high school team.

National Cathedral School, which Matthews has attended since her freshman year, does not offer the sport but permits Matthews to play during the winter and spring seasons as an independent project. “They are definitely really flexible with letting us go and train because they realize that school is not the only important thing – you have to have other interests,” Matthews said.

Matthews attacks her passions, which go beyond sports.

On top of working to get recruited for golf, she is pursuing a singing career. That has required regular travel to a studio in Los Angeles to record her songs. And when her family put travel on hold because of the pandemic, Matthews learned how to produce her own music using a digital audio workstation from her home in Great Falls.

She is also a standout math student. In the fall, she hopes to study the applications of linear algebra on computers.

Adding to her already “chaotic” life, Matthews expressed an interest in policymaking that addresses gun violence. She wrote a letter to the office of Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Expressing her interest in an internship. She was accepted and completed an eight-week internship on Capitol Hill.

“I was just feeling really frustrated, and it’s hard when you’re young to find something to do about it that’s actually going to change, so I wanted to go to the source and see how the policy was actually happening,” Matthews said.

Matthews, who still prioritizes golf, is grateful she has been able to do so much at such a young age.

“I kind of don’t know what I’m going to go into, whether it’s going to be something mathy or techie or singing,” Matthews said. “There are definitely ways to make an impact in so many different fields, so I want to make sure I take that with me whatever I end up doing.”

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