As the last grains of sand slipped through the hour glass, tension and pressure rose to agonizing levels at Westfield High School on Tuesday night. Parents and fans shook the stands with desperate cries as the Bulldogs scrambled to stave off a devastating end to a promising season.
The Northern Region’s last hope for a state field hockey title this season was slipping away with each passing second as the scoreboard’s clock stood still inside the two-minute mark. Trailing Mountain View 2-1 in the day’s last state quarterfinal contest, Westfield pounded its opponent’s goal with relentless urgency, racking up shots and penalty corners in search of an elusive tying goal that might keep its state title hopes alive.
Finally, a whistle sounded the end of the Bulldogs’ 2012 campaign. Even with a 14-1 advantage in penalty corners and an 8-5 edge in shots, the high-octane Westfield offense somehow had come up just short.
“They’re absolutely devastated,” said Westfield coach Starr Karl, whose team finished the season with a 20-3 record. “I’m just re-running the game in my head, and I’m like, ‘How could this happen?’ As a coach, it happens. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Things just don’t fall sometimes the way you think they should fall.”
Indeed, if the game’s one-sided pace was any indication, Westfield needed to get very unlucky for Tuesday’s contest not to fall its way. Trailing 2-1 at the start of the second half, the Bulldogs played the game’s final 30 minutes almost entirely on Mountain View’s side of the field. The visiting Wildcats — runners-up from the Northwest Region — didn’t manage a single shot or penalty corner in the second half.
Senior goalkeeper Caitlin Nolan and the rest of the Mountain View defense did well to prevent the Northern Region champions from launching their signature second-half onslaught. With a dynamic offense capable of scoring in bunches, Westfield made a living this season putting teams away after halftime. The Bulldogs did just that in the region final last week against South County, overcoming a scoreless first half with four second-half goals that gave them a 4-1 win.
Still, playing from behind wasn’t exactly comfortable territory for Westfield. The Bulldogs had trailed in only two games this year prior to Tuesday, both of which resulted in early-season losses.
“We talked about it before the game, what we would do if we started down,” senior sweeper Colby Kidwell said. “We were saying just play like it’s 0-0 so we could come up from it if the other team started ahead.”
A pair of defensive breakdowns in the first half had Westfield trailing 2-0, but the Winesett cousins were able to steal some momentum heading into the break with a goal just before halftime. Junior forward Katie Winesett — the area’s leading scorer with 29 goals this season — hammered home a rebound off a shot by Meghan Winesett, who finished with 27 goals and 17 assists to her name this year.
Though they weren’t able to mount a comeback, the Bulldogs at least can look back on a season full of impressive accomplishments. After claiming their fifth consecutive Concorde District crown, the girls went on to capture their school’s first Northern Region title since 2006. The 4-1 victory against South County on Nov. 3 was made all the sweeter considering the Stallions defeated Westfield by that same score in last year’s regional championship.
“We didn’t want to end this season like we did last year with only one title,” said midfielder Meghan Winesett, the team’s only senior who has started on the varsity squad since her freshman year. “We knew we could get two at least and shoot for a third. So it’s a lot easier to get over [the loss] having that under our belts.”
The region trophy was near the top of the team’s list of goals heading into a season that held the promise of nine returning starters from last year’s 20-4 squad. That team made it all the way to the state semifinals in Virginia Beach, a stage the Bulldogs were aiming to eclipse this year. They wanted a piece of First Colonial, the defending state champion tidewater team that beat Westfield 5-0 on Aug. 22 to open this season. Westfield likely would have met First Colonial had it advanced to the state final, as the undefeated Patriots steamrolled Thomas Dale 12-0 in their quarterfinal matchup Tuesday.
Even without that opportunity, Westfield can reflect on a season that saw them go undefeated against regional competition, outscoring local teams by a blistering 101-4 margin. An imposing defense anchored by Kidwell, senior goalkeeper Lauren Saltus and junior defender Rachael Ulsh complemented a multidimensional offense headed by the Winesetts and sophomore forward Emily McNamara, whose 20 assists led the area in that category.
Several key seniors will be departing next year, but Karl believes her group has enough returning talent to make more title runs next season.
“For the kids that are going to be around next year, I think they have a lot to build off of,” Karl said. “I have a great nucleus coming back. We’re definitely going to miss our seniors, but we’ve tried to not make it a one-person or a two-person team ... They’re going to have to work really hard in the offseason. That’s what I want them to come away with. And I want them to be hungry and want more for next year.”