By Brian Eller - email@example.com
QUICKSBURG -- There was no on-field celebration for Central on Thursday. There were no shrieks from teammates, no applause from fans in the stand, not even a team gathering following the final whistle. In fact, there wasn't even a final whistle.
That didn't mean the Falcons weren't celebrating somewhere, however. After a thunderstorm forced both teams to head into their locker rooms and eventually cut the final three minutes in the Shenandoah District girls soccer tournament championship, Central celebrated its 4-1 win over Stonewall Jackson from the visiting locker room, where the shrill whoops and hollers resonated 10 times louder than they ever could from the soccer field.
"I'm stoked, I can't even express the feeling," Central coach Duff Rice said amid the celebration. "From where we were the last three years to now, it's such a difference. It's so uplifting and hopefully we can just keep building on it from year to year."
The win on Thursday was the culmination of a three-year rebuilding period, when the Falcons struggled to even win one game all season.
"[This is my fourth year] playing Double-A ball; my first year, we didn't win a game," Rice said. "The next year we beat Strasburg and had a one-win season, last year we beat Skyline in a district game -- which was great, but those one-win seasons are tough to stomach. Getting beat, slaughter rules, beat up on, just getting flat out outplayed -- these girls have taken it pretty tough. For my seniors, this is the icing on the cake."
It may have been sweet for the seniors, but on Thursday it was Central's lone freshman who stole the show, as forward Katie Bennett notched her first-ever hat trick in the win.
Before Bennett's heroics, though, Stonewall's offense drew first blood, as the Generals scored in the seventh minute to take an early 1-0 lead. Dribbling down the middle of the field, the Generals' Taylor Koontz sent the ball outside a streaking forward, who crossed it into Central's box. The pass slipped just past keeper Miranda Morris, where Stonewall's Christina Chroniger was waiting. She took the pass and fired it into the net for the opening score.
"I got a little nervous [after the goal]," Bennett said. "I was nervous about this game all day. That's all I had been thinking about. Since the last time we played them, this is the team I wanted to play."
Stonewall's lead didn't last long. In the 11th minute, the Falcons responded, as Katie Philpott settled a goal kick about 20 feet from the Generals' net. She was able to slip past the defender and blast the ball into the net for the equalizer.
With the match tied, Bennett went to work. Three minutes after her teammate scored, Bennett got the Falcons on the scoreboard, firing a shot past keeper Rhea Jett to put the Falcons ahead by one.
Then, just minutes before halftime, Central sent a corner kick into Stonewall's box, where a cluster of white and blue jerseys lobbied for the ball. Jett had fallen down trying to field the corner kick, so it was up to Stonewall's defenders to block repeated shots with their bodies. They could only hold on for so long, as after a handful of missed shots from the Falcons, Bennett got the ball and didn't miss. Her goal gave Central a 3-1 lead at halftime. Even then, she was worried about holding off the Generals' potent attack led by twin sisters Taylor and Michaela Koontz.
"Oh, that [two-goal cushion] is gigantic," Rice said. "In our second game against them, we took a 2-0 lead and they came back in probably 10 minutes and put two in themselves. I knew that two was not enough and I was scared that three might not be enough. With his twins and with his offensive power, they're always a threat."
Just six minutes into the second half, Bennett completed her hat trick, firing the ball into the net after it bounced off Jett's body, all but putting away the game for the Falcons.
"I never expected to get a hat trick," she said. "I've never gotten one before and I'm just extremely happy that we won. I'm just a freshman, so it's really exciting. I expected [to win] but at the same time, I never did."
While the Generals weren't able to capture the girls tournament trophy, Stonewall's boys team never got a chance to play for theirs. Weather conditions didn't improve and the boys match between Stonewall and Riverheads will be played today at 5:30 p.m.