A frustrated Loudoun County player shouted the obvious when Sarah Mitchell threatened to score again after making two consecutive goals for Kettle Run during a 13-minute span Tuesday.
“It’s going to the same player every time,” she said of Mitchell, the Cougars’ center forward.
Unfortunately for Kettle Run, Loudoun’s best offensive weapon was a little more difficult to identity. All three of the Raiders’ starting forwards scored, with assists from five different players, to give Loudoun a convincing 5-2 victory over Kettle Run during the semifinals of the Class 4 Region C girls soccer tournament on the road in Nokesville.
“I knew going into the season we had goal-scoring personality,” said Raiders coach Olivia Mackey, who implemented a 4-3-3 formation. “I tried to choose the best formation to allow multiple players to be put into positions where they can score goals. … It’s just what they’re good at.”
Entering Tuesday, the Cougars had never allowed more than three goals in a game, but they fell behind 3-0 before halftime against Loudoun. So their 13-game winning streak ended and they finished the season with a 15-2 record while the Raiders (16-5-1) earned a state berth and advanced to play Woodgrove in the region final.
“It’s different playing Loudoun County because we’ve never played any teams this good,” said junior Peyton Fiel, whose Cougars won the Class 4 Northwestern District regular season and tournament titles while the Raiders won the Dulles District tournament championship. “Their passes [are better], and their defense is a lot sturdier. … They’re just way more aggressive than the other teams we’ve played.”
The Raiders, in fact, won the 2016 and 2015 Class 4A state championships with a previous state berth in 2014. They will return to that stage this season after losing last spring in the first round of regionals.
“I think we could go all the way if we want to,” Mackey, a first-year head coach, said. “We’ve got to have the right mentality.”
Loudoun certainly has the offensive weapons, averaging 4.5 goals per game this season. As sophomore forwards on the wings, Devon Balac finished Tuesday with two goals and an assists while Brooke Kirstein scored one goal.
At center forward, meanwhile, junior Taylor Kibble had one assist and scored twice to boost her team-record of single-season goals to 44.
“She’s just a pure athlete,” Mackey said of Kibble, who has verbally committed to East Carolina University. “She can just run for days. She can turn on a dime. She’s agile, and she can strike the ball with the most power I’ve seen … in a really long time.
“And she can strike it accurately,” the coach said, “so it just makes her very lethal up top.”
With the ball at her feet, Kibble often changed direction like a squirrel to beat Kettle Run defenders. She gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead less than five minutes into the match, assisted a goal with less than six minutes remaining in the first half and scored again during the final 75 seconds before halftime.
“She’s obviously got great moves,” Zuras said. “She was turning people around. It takes a crowd to stop her.”
The Cougars had never faced a more skilled forward this season, even in a district that included Sherando’s extraordinarily fast Kendall Lincoln, who shared Player of the Year honors with Fiel.
“She’s just good on the ball,” Fiel said of Kibble. “No one was as good as her [in the Northwestern District], and with a team around her that’s well-rounded.”
So the Cougars entered halftime with a 3-0 deficit despite producing more shots on goal than Loudoun, 7-6. Raiders goalkeeper Jenelle Manni made seven saves in the first half, but few of Kettle Run’s shots seemed challenging.
“It’s frustrating because when we came into this game we were ready to play,” Fiel said. Finishing is “what we work on in practice, but we just get gun shy.”
Regardless, the Cougars gave Loudoun a scare in the second half with Fiel assisting a Mitchell goal on a through ball less than three minutes after halftime. Mitchell then scored again off a Lyndsey Fisher pass, closing Kettle Run’s deficit to 3-2 with 24 minutes, 43 seconds remaining.
“The girls showed lot of pride there and played hard,” Zuras said.
“I wasn’t too nervous. I knew they could handle it,” Mackey said of the Raiders. “We just really needed that one extra goal to kind of ease our minds.”
Kirstein provided it by scoring on an assist from Sydney Schnell with less than 17 minutes remaining in the second half for a 4-2 lead.
“As the minutes ticked down, I think we knew we weren’t getting two more” goals, Fiel said. “So it was a lot harder to fight. … It was definitely heartbreaking.”
Nonetheless, the Cougars finished this spring with their best winning percentage in program history at 88 percent and earned a region bid for the second-consecutive season following a two-year drought on the heels of their first state berth in history during 2014 (Class 3A runner-up with a 14-6-2 record).
“Outstanding,” Zuras said of 2018. “It’s a great season for the girls. We just came up short tonight.
“I think if we had been a little better in front of both nets tonight, we can beat that team,” he said. “Between the 18s [in the midfield], a lot of times we were having the run of the game. We just didn’t finish enough.”
Loudoun only out-shot the Cougars 27-23 with Manni making 13 saves and Kettle Run keeper Carlyn Schneider making 11.
So Schneider helped Kettle Run allow only 18 goals all season despite giving up 10 during the Cougars’ initial seven games and allowing five Tuesday. They composed a nine-game stretch of only three goals allowed late in the season, including six shutouts.
“Defensively, it was one of the better seasons” in history, Zuras said.
That happened despite 2017 graduation losses that included of a pair of all-Conference 22 defenders in Catherine Schefer and Alyssa Megill.
To fill those voids, seniors Caitlyn Maloney and Grace Crater served as center backs after playing higher in the field during most of their soccer careers.
“That’s very selfless for them to do that because it’s kind of the dirty work and a lot of times you don’t get the glory,” Zuras said. “So [the team] really came together and played well.”