By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- The two goals Sherando senior Brittini Dennis scored in a 6-1 win over James Wood in a Northwestern District tournament semifinal match Saturday came as a relief, both to Dennis and the Warriors.
Dennis, who has had a hand in upwards of 100 goals through her Sherando career, and is the Sherando girls all-time leading goal-scorer, hadn't scored a goal against James Wood in her previous two matches with the Colonels.
Her first goal, in the 20th minute, broke a 1-1 tie, and her second goal, in the 23rd minute, gave the Warriors a 3-1 lead before the half.
After Dennis scored, Sherando coach Rob Kilmer congratulated the senior on ending her scoring drought against a James Wood team Sherando has now beaten by a combined score of 15-3.
"I had lot of stress relieved off that, too, to get that done," Dennis said.
But because Dennis couldn't score on the Colonels in her typical speedy fashion, she resorted to a tactic which, until Saturday, had been fruitless for the Warriors.
Immediately following a James Wood foul in Sherando's offensive third, Warriors defender Morgan Sirbaugh wasted no time setting up the ensuing free kick, dripping the ball to Dennis on the six amidst a group of Colonels still scurrying to mark up.
Dennis settled the ball, turned, scored.
"The Morgan Sirbaugh free kick is probably one of the smartest balls played here in my 11 years," Kilmer said. "Just the quick mindset to go play it quickly, because she knew they weren't ready."
Sirbaugh and Dennis have tried to link up in similar fashion before, but have always been a split second off in their timing.
On Saturday, it worked twice.
Three minutes after Dennis' first score, James Wood committed another foul, Sirbaugh blooped another free kick to Dennis on the six; Dennis plunked in her second score of the afternoon, and the 68th goal of her career.
Which came as a soothing repose for Sherando, which won the regular season district title by virtue of an undefeated district record, but was still wary of a James Wood team coming off a 1-1 tie with Millbrook and a 4-1 win over Handley.
"We all had jitters because it's a different story when it's a tournament game," Dennis said. "Everyone steps up to play."
After Katy Spencer tied the game at 1-1 with a James Wood score in the 14th minute, Sherando's chances, over the course of the next three minutes, were limited to a Jenny Ice cross from the right corner, and a soaring Katie Teets blast for the top of the box.
Dennis' scores eased the Warriors' oscillating nerves, prompting them to seven more shots before the end of the half, and several more before the end of the match.
Senior Lainie Weadon scored a goal in each half, Krista DeCeault scored in the 64th minute, and Jamie McCormick scored in the 78th minute.
As for the Colonels, a team comprising nine sophomores, the match carried on as one might expect, with the inexperienced side spending the better part of 80 minutes warming up to the feel of an elimination game.
"They were just better than we were, they're deeper," James Wood coach Jim Carden said. "We never shook our nerves -- it's OK to have butterflies before the game, but when you start, usually you shake them out."
Following the match the Warriors held up a trophy one game prior to playing in the district championship match, having won the annually awarded Blue Ridge Youth Soccer Association cup, a trophy given to the team with the best record amongst the Frederick County schools. Sherando, which hasn't lost a district game since a regular season loss to Brentsville 13 months ago, will play Handley on Tuesday in the championship match.
"We need to improve on a few things, but I think this momentum will carry on to the next game," Sirbaugh said. "Hopefully we'll come out strong and play hard."