By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Abbey O'Mara's got hops, that's for sure.
Warren County High School's junior goalkeeper showed off her impressive vertical leap with a pair of fantastic second-half saves to preserve the Wildcats' 3-2 girls soccer victory over Manassas Park on Monday.
O'Mara, settling into a full-time starting role after splitting goalkeeping duties last season, came up with a dazzling one-hand save just three minutes into the second half. Manassas Park's Shaina Williams sent a wicked slicing shot through the box and toward the left upper corner, but O'Mara leapt high and got a piece of the ball with her fingertips to deny the goal.
Then with 21 minutes to go in the game, O'Mara did it again -- with two hands, this time -- when she elevated to redirect Ari Winske's riser headed toward the net.
O'Mara, who finished with seven saves, said those two probably ranked among her highest jumps for saves.
"When the adrenaline's pumping, you can do about anything," O'Mara said. "That's probably one of the highest I've ever jumped for before, but I'm always reaching for the stars and I'd really like to think I can get higher than that."
Warren County (5-2 overall and district) seemed to take all the drama out of the match early, waylaying the Cougars with three goals in the first nine minutes. Warren County senior Kelsea Potts, the team's leading scorer, tallied the first two goals off assists from teammate Brooke Doggett.
Potts' first goal came just a 1:35 into the game, when she received Doggett's cross in the penalty box and hit a rising shot past Cougars goalie Madison Murphy for the opening score.
Five minutes later, Doggett spotted Potts again in the box and sent a through ball her way to set up another one-on-one. Potts took care of it from there, deftly tapping a shot past Murphy into the lower right corner.
"I think we just found a rhythm," Potts said. "I don't know if she was looking for me, but we were talking."
The Wildcats kept that rhythm a little while longer, as less than two minutes later they tallied their third goal when Courtney L'Amoreaux collected a throw-in from teammate Sam Schroyer in the penalty area and sent a long ball right on target to the net. L'Amoreaux's shot was just out of Murphy's reach and slipped in underneath the cross bar.
At that point, Warren County had scored three goals off four shots. Manassas Park coach Tiffani Washington couldn't explain her team's disastrous start, other than road weariness.
"They hadn't even woken up, basically, from the bus ride," Washington said. "I think that Warren County scoring kind of opened up their eyes, like, 'OK, now the game has started.' It took a lot and it shouldn't have taken that much, but it's just some games you have it, some games you don't."
The Wildcats continued to pressure in the first half, but the Cougars finally started to answer with some of their own chances. O'Mara made three saves in the first half, but Manassas Park's Williams finally broke through when she pounced on a cross in the box and punched a shot into the right corner of the net.
"We had a good start, nice good passing, scored three goals early," Wildcats coach Michael Carpenter said. "I think we started getting a little complacent, letting them win the 50-50 balls."
Still down two goals, the Cougars had a long way to go heading into the second half.
"I told them at halftime, 'If this is the way you want to go out, then this is the way we'll go out,'" Williams said. "But that little spark, that goal in the first half, I think that really helped them pick up their spirits."
The Cougars mounted a furious attack in the second half, bringing virtually all the pressure for the first 20 minutes. That's when O'Mara came up with those two huge saves.
"I let a goal in a few games ago, and I just knew I couldn't let my team down like that again," O'Mara said. "So I'm glad I brought it today."
Williams did get through again with 14 minutes to play. The Manassas Park junior forward snapped up a loose ball in the penalty box off a corner kick, turned and whipped a shot past O'Mara to pull her team within a goal.
The Cougars had all the momentum then, but O'Mara got some help from her teammates to preserve the lead. Wildcats freshman Brooke Henry cleared a dangerous ball into the box and Adena Ingram recovered after stumbling to chase down Williams on a potential break-away to tie up the ball.
That spoiled near chance seemed to deflate the Cougars, and the Wildcats reasserted their pressure over the final few minutes to secure the win.
"I'm very proud of my girls, the way they came back and worked hard," Washington said.
Warren County outshot the Cougars, 15-11. Murphy had seven saves for Manassas Park.
"Give Manassas Park credit -- they came back in the second half and fought hard," Carpenter said. "At the end, we stepped it up and started attacking the goal again."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>