QUICKSBURG -- Stonewall Jackson’s girls soccer team peaked at the right time this season.
The Generals were in a bit of a funk according to head coach Ginny Dellinger when the postseason started, but something special happened when the team played Shenandoah District rivals Wilson Memorial and Stuarts Draft in the district semifinals and finals. The Generals had lost all four times they had played the two squads in the regular season, but won in the district tournament to take the tourney crown.
“We had actually just been struggling before the Wilson game with a little bit of apathy,” Dellinger said. “People were graduating, not coming to practice. Everybody was interested in other things that were going on. Prom had happened recently and we were struggling to have energy. The Wilson game started to bring back that energy and then the Draft game completely brought it back. It put us in such a good place for the state tournament and the region tournament because they were fully committed at that point and time. They had beaten Wilson, they had beaten Draft and they knew they were better than they had been the whole season and they wanted to see how far they could take it.”
The Generals went 19-5 and all the way to the Class 1 state final, losing 1-0 (5-4 on penalty kicks) to Auburn.
Dellinger, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2019 Girls Soccer Coach of the Year, said that the wins over Wilson Memorial and Stuarts Draft in the Shenandoah District tournament showed how much progress the team had made from the start of the season.
The Generals opened the regular season with a 2-0 loss to Wilson Memorial and also lost 2-0 to Stuarts Draft early in the year.
She said one of the main things they saw from watching video of the games was that they didn’t have the speed edge on Wilson Memorial and Stuarts Draft like they did the other teams on their schedule.
“When we met a team that we didn’t have speed on we needed to utilize other ways to get through their defense and we weren’t doing that,” Dellinger said. “So we worked hard this season on figuring out how to get through those defenses and we did -- not particularly great. We didn’t pound goals in like we did against other teams. But we were able to figure out their defense and get through it and hold their offense, which was the other half of the equation.”
The Generals beat Wilson Memorial, 4-3, in overtime and then knocked off powerhouse Stuarts Draft, 1-0 (4-3 on penalty kicks). The Generals followed that up with two lopsided wins in the regional tournament over Altavista (15-0) and Rappahannock County (12-1).
Stonewall Jackson had a young squad, including 11 sophomores and three freshmen. Even though the Generals ultimately fell short of their goal of winning a state title, Dellinger said the growth she saw in her young team was important.
“We had lost some key players (to graduation) and had to reformulate the field and to close all those holes,” Dellinger said. “To see the growth in players that had been playing a long time. Sometimes you don’t get growth out of players that have been playing for a long time. To get growth out of kids like (sophomores) Brooke Jones and Emily (Poole) and Julia (Biller), to see those girls upping their game throughout the season to bring us to where we were -- that was a huge story for us. It’s a huge victory even though we didn’t get the state title.”
Dellinger said that advancing to the state final was a great experience for the whole team and she was happy to see the way the community supported the team. She said the community is still doing things for the team. Swover Creek Farms and Brewery in Edinburg recently threw a pizza party for the team and Southern Kitchen in New Market has offered the team free milkshakes this summer. Dellinger said Stonewall Jackson’s Booster Club sent money with the team so that all the athletes would have spending money on the trip to the state semifinals and finals at Radford.
“We had so much community support,” Dellinger said. “I think that was the thing that really took me by surprise. I knew that our community supported us, but they really came out on our behalf. They started filling the stands, which we don’t see a lot. ...The community is just really rallying behind us and I think that made the girls feel really special about what they have accomplished. I think whenever you can send a team to states (the community) really seems to rally around it. They love to see it happen. I would love to make it happen again the next two or three years.”
The Generals are losing seniors Virginia Biller, Casey Gibson and Anahi Ramirez. Biller and Gibson were both starters and four-year players at the varsity level.
“(Biller and Gibson) both have been the voice of the team,” Dellinger said. “... Virginia and Casey are the rah rah ‘this is what we’re going to do. Do you need anything? What can I do to make it better, to make you want this?’ Those are the kind of leaders that they were. They meant a lot to us. They’re going to be difficult to replace. I’ve got in mind the skill (players to replace them) but you can’t really replace the four years of varsity experience. Even if you’re really skilled you still have to learn to play that game. So that will be hard to replace.”
Stonewall Jackson will be moving up to Class 2 next season and will be moving from the Shenandoah District to the Bull Run District. Class 2 powerhouse teams George Mason and Maggie Walker along with Wilson Memorial will all be moving up to Class 3. The Generals went undefeated at the junior varsity level this season and Dellinger said she believes her team will be able to compete at the Class 2 level next season.
“The typical behemoths are moving out and I don’t know what we’re going to see with some of the other teams,” Dellinger said. “With Clarke (County), with Madison (County), who have also kind of developed into powerhouses -- we’ll see. I’d like to think we can hang with them. My intention is that we will hang with them. That’s what I want to see and we’re going to do everything that we can to make it happen. Because these girls want to go back to states, and I want to go back to states as well.”