By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
With just over five minutes remaining in the game and with the T.C. Williams girls soccer team ahead 4-0 over Falls Church, defender Allison Church played a through-ball into the path of freshman striker Caroline Bates, who had already scored twice.
Bearing down on the goal and with only Jaguars goalkeeper Leann Loch left to beat, Bates finished with ease down low to complete her hat-trick and put the exclamation point on a dominant 5-0 win for the Titans Monday at Parker-Gray Stadium.
The victory extended T.C.’s winning streak to six games and its overall record to 6-1, the best start in living memory. In those games, the team has conceded just four goals. It has been quite a turnaround for a program that went 4-7-3 last season and 5-9 in 2014.
“We stopped paying attention to preconceived notions about a team, because as we’ve seen, we’re a completely different team from last year,” said senior defender Alex Milliken. “No one expects us to come out like we have, so we just have to expect that they’re going to be a good competition, and Falls Church was a really good competition.”
On a blustery day and with their home field lending itself to a fast pace of play under late- afternoon sunshine, the Titans enjoyed the majority of the possession and chances against a Falls Church team that entered the game with a 3-3 record.
The home side’s pressure paid off with just under 18 minutes left in the first half as Bates finished with a low strike to grab her first goal. Then with 10:30 left before halftime, she scored again from a rebound after Isabella Ponzi’s header from a Claire Constant corner was blocked.
After the break, Constant got in on the scoring with a rocket from outside the penalty area to make the score 3-0 with around 30 minutes left. Substitute Paige Dow added a fourth goal thanks to a cross from Ponzi, then Bates completed her hat-trick. As of the time of writing, Bates has scored in every game except one for the Titans, leading the way for an offense that has found its passing rhythm.
“I really think our passing game is very strong,” said senior Philomena Fitzgerald. “We find gaps that we can break defenses down, and we force one-on-one situations and we normally come out on top. Our strikers are good about that, and we end up with goals.”
After a 2-1 loss away against Stuart in its first game of the season, T.C. has rattled off several impressive wins, including victories against a number of Patriot Conference opponents. A 7-1 win at Gar-Field was followed by 5-0 and 2-1 victories over Patriot foes Lake Braddock and West Potomac, respectively. The Titans then beat Lee 4-0 and Annandale 5-0, and head coach Ally Wagner said that she expected such dominance given the talent on the field.
“I always expect a good start, but I anticipated it being this,” she said. “We all talked about it as long as we are mentally here, we are absolutely capable of having a start like this. Something just clicked.”
“We knew that everyone would think of us as an easy game; we knew we had to come out strong and prove them wrong,” said senior defender Hannah Bates. “Then once we started our winning streak, the teams started coming out even harder because you always want to down the team with the streak. So far, we’ve been able to keep up the hard work.”
Defensively, the Titans looked in control against a Jaguars team that tried to spring counterattacks. Junior goalkeeper Savannah Richardson was called into action to make some solid saves, and her teammates said being able to build from a solid backline has benefited T.C.
“One of the biggest differences from last year is we play a team offense and a team defense,” Milliken said. “Especially the last couple of games, we’ve had shutouts, so it starts from the back. We’ve been able to find gaps in the midfield, and the midfielders have been good about coming to and connecting the offense and defense.”
The Titans return to action Friday at South County, harboring hopes of a No. 1 seed in the Patriot Conference tournament next month but with several tough tests ahead. Wagner said that her team must stay on their toes given the strength of their schedule and the remaining conference games.
“I think the girls are very humble, but they’re excited to be here because they really haven’t had a season like this so far,” she said. “I think they’re happy to be here, but they know that any given day, something could change very quickly.”
“Once we saw we had the ability to do big things and we were scoring goals and getting shutouts, we realized this was a potential unlike any other season before,” said Milliken. “I think it’s brought the team closer, we know we’ll be supporting each other on and off the field, so it’s been a good season.”