Shutting down Clarksburg’s forwards, junior goalkeeper Gabby Paolini led her team to a 1-0 PK-determined overtime victory. In the second half, a penalty was called on her. Clarksburg shot the ball to the upper 90 corner, but Paolini stopped it.
In the beginning of the game, the Cougars played uncharacteristically slow but picked it up in the second half. Regulation dragged out into double overtime, and then into a tense round of penalty kicks. Freshman Mary McMeekin, junior Morgan Dorset and sophomore Lauren Holdsworth each scored one, and Paolini saved three out of the four aimed at her.
Paolini said ending the regulation game tied was nerve-wracking, “but the excitement and adrenaline was there, which allowed us to win in the end.”
However, there were tears from those in red and black after the Cougars ended their season at Damascus, 3-0, in the first round of the playoffs.
Coach Peg Keiller wasn’t one of those shedding tears. She was proud of her young team. She also realized the extent of the loss of Isabelle Latour in the Seneca Valley game. Asked why QO’s usual passing game couldn’t get going, Keiller said: “She’s sitting over there with a boot on her foot. I don’t think we realized until this game how much she was the heart of this team.”
Damascus dominated from the opening and eliminated QO’s trademark short-passing, control-oriented offense. The Cougars had to go for the long ball and couldn’t break Jessica Konecke loose as they did when they beat Damascus earlier, 3-1, nor could Kelly Whiteis get free with her speed from up top in the second half. Each had only one shot, both in the second half.
Latour, Konecke and Whiteis will all be back next year. One of the few departing seniors is captain Shannon Dwyer, who missed much of the season with a freak knee injury. Of her final season, she said, “I’m proud of us for how hard we worked and how people stepped up and how, when we had these missing holes, everybody filled them in.”
Asked when she knew the game was over, Dwyer said, “When the last whistle blew.” That’s when the tears started.
Coach Laura Williams thought her girls were finally gelling as a team, and it showed when the Cougars won the regional title. This was a repeat of last year’s regional final, won by Blake. However, the Cougars had beaten Blake, 3-2 at Blake in their first regular season game this year. Tensions ran high.
“We were so intense. We were so ready,” said Emily Wingate.
No goals were scored in the first half, but nine minutes into the second, Wingate stepped up and scored. “I hit it in as quick as I could,” she said.
Then, with three minutes to go in what seemed like a never-ending second half, Leah Hunsinger scored off a stroke caused by the goalkeeper’s stepping on the ball. Finalizing the win, 2-0, Hunsinger welcomed her teammates as they stormed the field after the buzzer.
The win put the Cougars in the state semi-final on a smooth turf field at Broadneck against River Hill. By the time QO adjusted to the fact that they were in a state semi-final, though, the score was 0-2 on River Hill goals in both halves. The one in the second half was distinctly against the run of play as the Cougars totally dominated the Hawks. They outshot them 8-3, had 12 corners to 0 and had the ball in the Hawk end constantly, but the most they could get out of it was a stroke goal from Hunsinger after she was buried while in scoring position in front of the Hawk goal.
Shot after shot went from a Cougar stick into a Hawk defender or just wide. The result was a crushing 2-1 loss, one step from the state title game.
“We were definitely capable,” said co-captain senior Maddie King, “that’s why it’s so tough.”
Rachel Lipman, the other co-captain said, “We had them on stick skills and play; it was just mentally we couldn’t get it done. This season was really bittersweet.”
Williams summed it up: “Too late. We started too late. That’s been our propensity all year. It just wasn’t their day ‘on’.”
The storming Cougars in the second half were led by Kelly Baick, King and Alex Jamison who racked up all four of her shots in the second half. The team finished a very respectable 13-3 for the season.
The last two games of the season were a letdown for the number one seed in 3A West. The team played Walter Johnson and lost 3-2.
Coach Stacy Bureau was looking to overcome communication barriers on the team and to learn to brush off mistakes. The team started off very strong, but in the fourth and fifth games, “it seemed like we just gave up,” she said. “Unfortunately momentum can shift very quickly in the game of volleyball, and we lost all momentum.”
Against Magruder, a very skilled serving team, the leapers lost 0-3: 20-25, 19-25 and 16-25.
Led by seniors Christina Garcia’s 20 service points, 14 in a row to start the match, and Tia Mancuso’s extraordinary power at the net, the Cougars cruised to a 3-0 win over Linganore in their first tournament game.
QO has lacked a consistent stable of attackers. Now they have Hailey Kessler, Mancuso, Grace Kim, Leah Dagen and an outstanding, poised defense.
In the second round of playoffs (the first time in seven years QO has made it this far), the Tuscarora Titans came to the Cougar Dome to face the Cougars. The Titans and their visible enthusiasm took an early lead in the first game, but the Cougars stayed calm and recovered to win 26-24. The Cougars really got into swing of things in the second game and broke away almost immediately. Consistently strong hits by senior Mancuso and sophomore Kessler led to the game win 25-11. The third game was extremely close throughout. At 17-17, however, QO broke away and for the game point, Mancuso spiked it down, 25-21.
“[The team played tonight with confidence, composure, and aggression the entire match. It was incredible to watch,” said Bureau.
The 3A West regional final was about as tight a match as anyone could have wanted — unless you were a Cougar fan. It came down to mental strength and consistency, and the Bengals had more of both. Blake’s two big hitters — Meagan Lagerlef and Franchesca Kuhney — began to dominate again in games 3 and 4. The result was a four-game final that once again, for the third time in a week, left red and black girls weeping. (Field hockey lost the state semi and soccer the regional final.)
After dropping the first game 18-25, the Cougars bounced back 25-20. The third and pivotal game turned on Lagerlef who closed out the 20-25 win with two service aces. The final game was tense from the beginning with neither team able to establish a lead of more than three points. From 21-all, however, QO did not have a single attack point while Blake struck for 3 and closed out the match, 23-25.
“To think of where this team was last year — winning only five matches — to this year — seeding number one in the region, playing for the regional championship,” said Bureau, “I’m just so proud of this team and what they’ve been able to accomplish this season.”
She also pointed out that QO, Blake and Damascus were even all season. “It just came down to us making more mistakes than Blake did.”
Senior Mancuso, one of the Cougars’ outstanding attackers, couldn’t explain why the second game strategy didn’t work later in the match. “I don’t know if it was getting tired or just not reading it.”
It was a mystery and shall remain so until next season when, along with all other QO sports, volleyball moves back into Division 4A.
The 3A regional championships were held at Watkins Mill High School. The boys and girls took home first place, qualifying themselves for the state championship. Watkins Mill’s horrendously wet and muddy course slowed down performances significantly and added approximately two minutes to each runner’s time.
Kentlands senior captain Conor Spaulding ran away with first place in the boys’ race, with senior Drew Lehner (5) and junior Evan Laratta (11) close behind. The top QO girl finisher, freshman Regina Schreiber, scored fourth in a break-out performance for the season. Kentlands senior captain Shannon Wagner has been dealing with a hurt left leg, but she expected to be healed by states.
The runners finished up their season at the state championship meet, held at Hereford High School. The boys placed third and the girls placed eighth.
“It was definitely a little disappointing coming out here and getting third as a [boys’] team. I know we’re fully capable of winning the title, but it just didn’t happen today. I think a lot of us just let the hills get to us, and the mentality during the race became negative,” said senior captain Conor Spaulding. “For myself, once a small gap came between me and the guys in front of me, before I knew it, it was too late. They were well ahead, and just trying to work back up to them throughout the second half of the race was too hard and it wore me out.”
Hereford’s course, known for being one of the toughest courses in the nation, is where the Bull Run Invitational took place six weeks earlier.
“From day one, our goal was to run really well in the region,” said Head Coach Seann Pelkey. “We knew we had a team that was good enough to place highly, and as the season wore on we found out we had the best team in the region. [The state meet] was almost a little letdown, but we didn’t run that far off from how we ran at the region meet. Overall if you’re going look at the entire season, you’d have to overwhelmingly call this season a success.”
Senior three-sport Cougar star Leah Dagen has been named a winner of the Hyman M. and Philip D. Perlo High School Athlete Award from the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. Lettering in volleyball, basketball and softball, Leah has participated in the Maccabi Games and their community service days; helped organize the QO girls’ basketball team Haiti Relief bake sale, which raised $650 last basketball season; been a counselor at various basketball camps and carries a GPA of 3.9. She is tapped as a starting guard on the QO varsity this fall.