A new chapter in an epic rivalry

A new chapter in an epic rivalry
Captain Madison Mote hoists the VISAA championship plaque above her teammates in celebration of winning the state tournament on Sunday. (Photo Credit: Brian Kapur)

By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

The VISAA girls’ lacrosse final on Sunday was a game to remember: City rivals Bishop Ireton and St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes faced off for the fifth consecutive year. SSSAS scored the game-tying goal with just one second left in regulation. Four overtimes later, a player who transferred to B.I. from SSSAS last year scored the winning point, as B.I. defeated St. Stephens 8-7 to take home their fourth VISAA title in the past five years.

Coaches, players and fans alike have called the game, which took place at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, the most exciting game they’ve seen in years.

The Cardinals’ defense held strong against the Saints’ offense throughout the playoff final. (Photo Credit: Brian Kapur)

“You can almost always guarantee a really great game between the two teams, B.I. and St. Stephens,” SSSAS senior Annie Dyson said. “We just put in all that work for that one game, so obviously it’s crazy that there were so many people there. I’ve never played in a game with that many people there.”

“I’ve done this for 40some years, and I’ve never been in four overtimes. The referees were saying they hadn’t seen four overtimes,” Kathy Jenkins, SSSAS coach of 42 years, said.

B.I. Coach Richard Sofield said he went into the match optimistic, but knowing it’d be a tough game.

“When you play a good team like St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, you know it’s not going to be easy,” Sofield said. “There are just no easy wins against good teams, so we knew that whether we got up big or they got up big or anything like that, the game was going to swing back and forth.”

The first swing was in favor of B.I., which went into halftime with a 5-1 lead. In the second half, however, St. Stephen’s made a comeback.

B.I.’s 2017-2018 state championship-winning girls’ lacrosse team. (Photo Credit: Brian Kapur)

“When a ball bounces funny, or a 50/50 call goes one way or the other, just things like that, when you a get a series of those, all of a sudden the momentum swings dramatically. And that happened to us,” Sofield said. “I mean, we were leading 5-1 at the half, and then next thing you know, we’re in a 5-4 game.”

“I think they just really wanted it,” B.I. senior and Captain Madison Mote said of her opponents.

B.I. was also set back by two yellow cards in the second half, one of those going to Sofield for arguing with a ref.

Despite the shifts in momentum, B.I. was still up by two as the second half drew to a close. With four minutes left and a 7-5 lead, B.I. was stalling as the clock ran down. At the one-minute marker, St. Stephen’s scored on a turnover, closing the gap to 7-6.

“That turnover with about a minute left was just truly an uncharacteristic turnover. I mean, we just weren’t thinking. Just a big mistake,” Sofield said. “They didn’t quit. They played hard, and they took advantage of our mistakes.”

With less than a minute left in regulation time, SSSAS won the next draw, setting the stage for freshman Rita Peterson to score again and tie the game at 7-7 with just a second left on the scoreboard.

Junior Briana Lantuh races a SSSAS defender down the field. She later scored the game-winning goal. (Photo Credit: Brian Kapur)

“Oh my God, we were so excited,” Jenkins said. “We were just trying to get the shot off of them. The first couple shots we tried on that play, we didn’t get. … We were screaming, ‘You have to shoot!’ and then eventually Rita got the ball and put it in.”

Going into overtime, neither team was ready to surrender. Battered by exhaustion and heat, both teams’ defenses held strong against numerous goal attempts in the first three overtimes.

“Every time we were on defense we knew that we had to play our hardest because, any moment, whoever had the ball had the opportunity to end the game right there,” Briana Lantuh, the player who scored B.I.’s sudden-death-winning goal, said.

In the fourth overtime, Sofield called a play that gave Lantuh the opportunity to shoot. He said, of all the players on the field, she looked the “freshest.”

“She dodged, she did not get a big huge step on her girl – her girl was playing good defense on her – but she managed to get enough space to get a shot off and skipped it in the goal,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy goal to win the game. It was a hard-fought goal to win the game. It was just emblematic of the entire contest that every play was so close, so tight, so difficult for each team.”

Players dump water on
Coach Richard Sofield’s head to celebrate the state victory. (Photo Credit: Brian Kapur)

Lantuh said her game-winning energy was fueled by her determination.

“I just did not want to let anything go in that game,” Lantuh said. “I was leaving everything out on the field. I didn’t want to have any regrets walking off that field, so I was just letting it all out there, every single piece of me.”

Dyson commended her opponent’s performance.

“Both teams were just determined and fought until the very end, so you’ve gotta give them credit because they executed when they needed to, and we had our chances,” she said.

Jenkins said, despite the tough loss, she was proud of her team. SSSAS also made it to the semifinals in their league, ISL, and finished the season with a 26-4 record.

“Most of our losses were by one goal and that’s a little bit hard to take, because obviously we could’ve won them, but I’m just so proud of the girls and how they fought to the very end,” Jenkins said. “They had a long season and a lot of games and they kept going. They never gave up and they never stopped believing in themselves.”

“It really was a pretty incredible game,” Sofield said. “Both teams were fighting. No one was going to give up, and that’s what made sort of the win even that much more special, to see how hard fought it was and how either team really could’ve won that game, but we found a way.”

B.I. finished the season 21-3. They also won the WCAC championship, thus fulfilling their motto of sweeping “six games in May.”

“I just want to emphasize the word gritty,” Sofield said. “We stayed true to form in both playoff tournaments, but what they fell back on in tough situations was just gritty. We didn’t have pretty wins. We had gritty wins. And I thought that was pretty much the character of the team this year.”