The Quince Orchard girls’ soccer team’s magical season ended in sudden, heartbreaking fashion on Monday night when Walt Whitman scored in the final minute to capture a 1-0 victory and the 4A West region title.
Whitman scored off a throw-in with about 40 seconds remaining, crossing the ball into the box where a Whitman forward redirected it into the net.
“An absolute heartbreaker,” coach Peg Keiller said. “We knew it would be an extremely tight game that could go either way. … But dropping it so late in the game with no time to react was crushing.”
“Very disappointing to lose in the last 40 seconds of the region final game, but I’m extremely proud with how my team played,” said Jenna Williams, a senior center back and one of the team’s captains.
“We worked way too hard to go down like that,” said midfielder and fellow captain Kate Faraone. “I’ve never played on a team who has wanted it so bad, which is why losing like that was the worst feeling ever. … A goal like that with 39 seconds left was absolutely tragic.”
The Cougars earned their spot in the region final by topping Wootton, 1-0, the previous week as Faraone scored off a corner kick in the 66th minute. Junior goalie Katie Orr had 5 saves in the shutout to set up the rematch of the 2017 final with Whitman.
Both teams entered the contest with 13-1 records, ranked in the Washington Post top 10. Whitman’s only loss was 1-0 to QO in the first game of the season. They had allowed seven goals all season, while QO had allowed five.
Even though the Cougars had earned home field, the game was played at Gaithersburg High School because the Cougar Dome field was unplayable. Both teams had good, loud turnouts and QO fans brought drums to boost the big game atmosphere.
The game ended what Keiller described as a “fantastic” season for the QO girls.
“Only one other QO girls’ soccer team has finished the regular season 11-1, and that team lost their first playoff game,” Keiller said. “So, though we were excited with the season, we were mindful that, in this area with so much soccer talent, no playoff wins are guaranteed. The girls were happy to win their second straight division title and get back to the region final, but definitely had sights set higher.”
“There was nothing surprising about this season,” said senior forward Mary Wari, also a captain and the team’s second leading scorer. “We worked for what we wanted, which was evident in our regular season record. It was not easy to get to where we did, but took a lot of mental and physical preparation.”
“I knew we would go far in playoffs,” said Williams. “I can easily say this was the most talented team I have been a part of my four years of playing for QO. We put our hearts on the line and played each game like it was our last.”
Junior forward Paige McNeal was QO’s leading scorer with 17 points on seven goals and three assists. Other top scorers were Wari and midfielders Carli Sullenger, Natalie Price, and Grace Soler.
Defense, however, is what got the girls to the dance.
“Our defense was outstanding this year,” Keiller said. “This year’s team set the program record for fewest goals in a season (six), and for lowest goals against average at 0.40.” She said goalie Orr “was our most improved player, and set the school record for lowest season GAA at 0.44.”
The squad’s defensive effort was led by center backs Lindsey Brick and Williams and outside backs Kaitlyn Price and Faith Lane, and Faraone “was incredible in the defensive midfield . … She made the job of the back line easier and started most of our attacks,” said the coach. Freshmen Sullenger and Soler “played well above their years.”
“We really were successful because of our all-around balance,” said Keiller. “The other factor in our success was the passion, work rate, and chemistry of this group of amazing girls.”
Her players agreed.
“I will … remember our team’s unbreakable bond,” said Wari. “It’s so much more than soccer. We’re a family, and I will never forget this season for that exact reason.”
“Our team has so much personality and so much passion, which ultimately bonded us on and off the field,” Faraone said. “Our team this year has brought me some of the best memories and friendships that I can honestly say I will remember forever. … What I will remember the most about this season is all the laughs.”
Said Williams: “I can speak for everyone on the team when I say that it hurts to let it go.”