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Warriors win title in thriller

By Jeremy Stafford - jstafford@nvdaily.com

STEPHENS CITY -- It's said by some that the eyes are a window into a person's soul.

Sherando keeper Briana Hudnall looked into the eyes of four Handley players, and those eyes, for the most part, betrayed their intentions.

When they didn't, Hudnall went with her gut.

In the Northwestern District tournament final at Arrowhead Stadium on Tuesday, a match that went through 80 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of sudden death overtime, and penalty kicks, Hudnall had seven saves in the run of play and saved every one of Handley's penalty kicks following the four overtime periods.

"It feels great," Hudnall laughed. "I'm ready for a steak dinner right now."

Hudnall, a first-year soccer player who's had to learn the basics of tending goal on the fly, saved Sherando's undefeated district record, giving the Warriors a 3-2 win over Handley by virtue of penalty kicks.

Each time a Handley kicker stepped into the box for a PK, Hudnall searched for a telling glance, an otherwise unnoticeable twitch of an eye, in the hopes of inferring the intended destination of each shot.

When Handley junior Megan Martin laced a shot to the right post, Hudnall caught it; when Cassandra Alamo tried to tuck a shot under the crossbar, Hudnall caught it.

The same went for Handley's next attempt.

The only penalty kick Hudnall didn't catch was a high plink from Alison MacDonald, which Hudnall tapped over the goalmouth.

And all the while, Sherando saw penalty kicks scored by senior Brittini Dennis and junior Krista DeCeault, with DeCeault's shot solidifying Sherando's win after Hudnall's fourth save.

When the match ended, Hudnall, draped in her teal goalie jersey, walked to the top of the goal box and smiled. The Warriors congealed into a small drove and rushed their keeper. Hudnall, still wearing a smile, outstretched her arms as if to hug the oncoming mob all at once.

"A legend's been born," Sherando coach Rob Kilmer said. "I've never in my life -- pro-level, college-level, high school-level, club-level, Blue Ridge-level -- I have never seen a goalie make four saves."

And Sherando perhaps has Sadie Shirley -- a junior defender who because of an injury couldn't play in the district final -- to thank for its second consecutive tournament championship.

At a powder puff football game earlier this school year, Hudnall's athleticism and physicality caught Kilmer's eye. Shirley's father, R.K. Shirley, slipped a word to Hudnall's parents about her stepping into the goal box for the 2010 season, and Sadie Shirley posed the question to Hudnall shortly after.

After her first season in goal Hudnall was named second team all-district, the first Sherando keeper to be named to the all-district team since the mid-1990's.

And without Shirley in the back to scoop up loose balls and send them through the midfield, Sherando saw a rise in play from junior defender Megan Sirbaugh, a second team all-district honoree.

When most everyone on the pitch slogged through a terrible exhaustion, Sirbaugh shimmied back and forth through the box, clearing the crescendos of Handley's late scoring opportunities.

"I definitely wanted to pick it up for [Shirley], and for the rest of the team," Sirbaugh said. "I tried to get to the ball as fast as I could, and we've been working on flying to the ball in practice, and so I really just tried to do that and get it up and over the best I could."

Still, Sherando gave up two goals inside of two minutes, the first being a Martin penalty kick in the 58th minute, the second an Alamo score in the 59th.

Sherando, indeed, was saved by its quick start.

Dennis and Lainie Weadon each scored in the match's opening 20 minutes, so that Sherando resembled more the team that beat Handley 3-0 earlier this month, rather than the team that tied the Judges 1-1 earlier this season.

"We really had to come out as hard as we could," DeCeault said. "And what we talked about before the game was we needed heart, that was the big thing, is heart, and I thought we showed that."

And for Handley, the opposite was true: Coach Luke Mason said he would've liked his team to start out as strong as they finished.

"We just got off to a sluggish start," he said. "But that's all Sherando needs. They're a good team and you can't give them the space, you can't give them the time."

Following the match, Millbrook boys soccer coach Keith Kilmer stood at midfield and snapped pictures of the Sherando Warriors, the first Sherando girls soccer team to win the regular season, earn the No. 1 seed for the district tournament, and win the district tournament.

Fittingly, many of the girls grouped for the picture wore white shirts which read "tradition" in large block letters across the back. Underneath, the shirt read the dates of Sherando's tournament victories, and the names of the school's outstanding players.

In the center of the crowd of white shirts was a splattering of teal: Hudnall, still smiling, holding up a single index finger.

"This is the team that will be remembered," Rob Kilmer said. "... These girls have played for the girls before them, the coaches that have been here before them, and the pride of Sherando, and this team has set that bar a little higher, and this team will be a team that lives forever.

"They've made their mark."


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