This season for QO girls’ varsity soccer has so far lived up to the team’s high expectations. The Cougars are 8-1 and Division champions.
The Cougars came into the season after losing in the regional finals the year before to archrival Whitman. After a big 5-0 win against Damascus in week one, it was time for a rematch with Whitman.
The night was Sept. 9. The Cougar Dome was filling up with students, parents and people from around the community who were there to see the most anticipated girls’ soccer matchup of the year. It was the Cougars’ first home game—and biggest game—of the season, a rematch of last year’s 4A West regional final.
The Cougars beat their rivals that night in a highly contested 3-1 win with goals from sophomores Grace Soler and West Point commit Carli Sullenger. One of the highlights of the game was the great goalkeeping by senior and former forward Paige McNeal.
The Whitman rematch was McNeal’s first big game in goal after she was unexpectedly put into that position to fill in for senior Katie Orr, who had been diagnosed with mononucleosis. “The game against Whitman definitely boosted my confidence. I knew I had to go into the game with a tough mentality and play a great game,” McNeal said. “I had to make some big saves that game but having such a strong mentality and tons of motivation from my teammates helped us pull out the win.”
It wasn’t McNeal’s first time in goal, however. She helped lead the team two years ago to the state semifinals while in goal. “It was a surprise when I found out I had to play goalie,” she said, “but I knew I would be OK because I had played goalie my sophomore year in playoffs and I also had Coach Peg and Coach Erin Kakalec, who were former goalies, to help and motivate me.”
Coach Peg Keiller, who is coming into her 20th season as the head coach of the QO girls’ soccer team, is the main reason for the team’s recent success. She was an All-Conference goalie at Holy Cross and played professionally for the Maryland Pride as a goalkeeper.
With McNeal moving into goal, the team had to find someone else to fill the attacking role, and they sure have found the right player. The team moved into a 4-4-2 formation with Sullenger and Natalie Price leading the attack. One of the main focal points for the team is how they build their attack from the back. The strong right side with full-back Faith Lane and midfielder Grace Soler are able to pass it up and dribble through the whole defense of any opponent, whether it’s the highly skilled Whitman team or a team like Clarksburg who they were able to blow out easily. And once the ball is there, it’s easy work for Soler as she has the two very highly talented forwards in Price and Sullenger to finish the shots.
The backline is the most veteran part of the team this year, yet it is still young with only two seniors out of the four players. Lindsey Brick, a Syracuse commit, is able to take over games defensively. Sophomore and second-year varsity player Rachel Swartz is at the other center-back position locking down the opposing attack. The two studs in the back allow for fullbacks Maddy Freedman and Faith Lane to be more present in the attack, while defending midfielder and All-Met Honorable Mention Kate Faraone can stay back a little more and shy off any counter-attacks.
So far, the Cougars only have one loss this season to Walter Johnson (WJ), with a score of 4-1. Coach Keiller said, “It was a really weird game where it certainly wasn’t a one-sided game.”
She noted that the game against WJ really woke the girls up. Two nights after their WJ loss, the Cougars beat Bethesda-Chevy Chase (BCC)—a team that had beat WJ. The Cougars’ winning score against a very talented BCC team was 1-0, as Brick was able to score on a free-kick and also play amazing defense against a team that had scored 18 goals in their past three games.
The Cougars’ regular season is starting to wind down. The last game of the season is Friday, Oct. 18 at Sherwood. The team hopes for a long postseason. It’s just a matter of making it past one of the down-county teams, WJ, BCC or Whitman once again—and then to win it all at the state championship game at the Ridley Athletic Complex at Loyola University.