By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Handley and Sherando have stood atop the Northwestern District in girls soccer for several years now, and that has resulted in one of the most intense rivalries in the area.
When it's a rivalry like that, nothing is sweeter than knocking off your rival when they're in first place. The Judges (3-5-1, 2-1-1) came within 30 seconds of doing just that on Thursday, but in the end settled for a 1-1 tie.
"It's difficult to hold them scoreless, but we did just that for 39 minutes," Handley sweeper Colleen Koppenhaver said. "We broke down on defense just a little bit and they were able to tie the game. But we're not that terribly disappointed. We just tied the top team in the district."
The Warriors (7-1-2, 3-0-1) entered the game as the clear favorite, led by Sherando's all-time leading goal scorer, Brittini Dennis. Facing the Warriors senior on defense was freshman Anna Robinson. Although on paper that looked like a huge mismatch, in reality it turned out to be central battle of the game.
Robinson's play kept Dennis off balance the entire game, giving her Handley teammates a chance to compete.
"We put Anna on Dennis and we felt very comfortable about doing it," Judges coach Luke Mason said. "What's amazing is that she's a freshman and has never played club soccer. She wasn't even a starter at the beginning of the season. But she's come on, and now she's one of our most solid players."
Robinson's play wasn't lost on Dennis, who was unable to get off a shot in the first half.
"It was a tough battle out there," Dennis said. "They did a really good job of marking us, and making it difficult to get our passes off. It was almost impossible to get into scoring position."
The pressure on Robinson was relentless, as midfielder Krista DeCeault kept pushing the ball in Dennis' direction.
"I really thought that they were singling me out," Robinson said. "But that really didn't bother me. I just tried to mark Dennis tight and force her to pass it. She's really quick and she has a lot of skill with the ball. She never made it easy for me."
The Judges had just as much trouble with the Sherando defense. The quartet of Sadie Shirley, Morgan Sirbaugh, Megan Sirbaugh and Rebecca Longenecker allowed Handley just eight shots over 90 minutes of play.
"Their defense is just difficult to beat," Judges forward Tale Curry said. "It was almost impossible to get a cross, much less a shot."
With 18:28 left in a scoreless game, Handley finally got the impossible. Myrina Booker found Curry at left wing and hit her with a perfect pass. Curry did the rest, volleying the ball past Warriors goalkeeper Briana Hudnall for the first goal of the game.
"That was really exciting," Curry said. "Myrina made a great pass, I saw the opportunity to shoot and I took it."
With the Judges up 1-0 and time running short, Sherando pressed hard for the equalizer. With Robinson near midfield, DeCeault shot a through pass to the left wing, and Dennis frantically raced for the ball. She got there just ahead of the Handley defenders and rifled the ball to the far post for a goal.
"It was a long ball, and I had to really work hard to get to it," Dennis said.
Given Sherando's history of winning big district games, DeCeault and Dennis' last-second heroics didn't surprise Warriors coach Rob Kilmer.
"I just hate a tie," Kilmer said. "Any time you play Handley, you know that it's going to be a battle. But we've come back like that before this year. I thought it showed a lot of character."
Both teams battled hard for the win in overtime, but neither was able to threaten the other's goal with any success. After giving up the tying goal, Robinson, Koppenhaver, Cindy Quarles and Kim Rosario Rosada tightened up on defense for the Judges, and their Sherando counterparts did the same.
"This is really hard to take," DeCeault said. "They had us marked so tightly it was hard to get anything going. But we should have played better."