Apparently this is what it takes to beat the Thomas S. Wootton High School field hockey team: 76 minutes of play, a goalie that stuffs 92 percent of shots and a two-time junior Olympian who has scored in every single overtime game this season.
It may have taken 15 games to figure it out, but Walter Johnson finally put together the winning formula over previously undefeated Wootton, the county's second unbeaten team to fall early in the playoffs.
With their 2-1 double-overtime win to claim the 4A West crown on Thursday, the Wildcats not only spoiled the Patriots' first perfect season but they also earned their first state playoff berth since 2001.
“It's amazing,” said junior standout Anna Rowthorn-Apel, who scored the game-winning goal in the 76th minute of play. “We haven't gotten there in a long time just because our team dynamics — this the first year we've had a team that loves each other. We haven't had any tension on the team, we just play so well together and it just means so much to us.”
No tension? Maybe not between Wildcats themselves, but there was plenty on the field Thursday.
It was present on every single one of Wootton's seven second-half penalty corners and each of the Patriots' 11 shots that could have decided the game. It was certainly there when Walter Johnson's Mackenzie Early had a one-on-one fast break in the first overtime which was broken up by Wootton's freshman keeper, Athena Sardelis, who began the season as a backup on the junior varsity team.
There was no doubt that even the umpire got caught up in some of that tension when he sent Wootton's star defender, Chloe Morakis, off to the sidelines for five minutes, carding her for what he thought was an intentional trip on Rowthorn-Apel (the two are former club teammates, so that's unlikely).
But, just as the case was in overtime games against Quince Orchard on Sept. 22 and Winston Churchill on Oct. 3, it all came down to the stick of Walter Johnson's consummate closer, Rowthorn-Apel, and a curling backhand shot that gave the Wildcats their most memorable win to date.
“The girls' goal at the start of the season was to make it to states,” Murray said. “That was their goal. I reminded them of their goal before the game and nothing else mattered.”
Now they have an impending state semifinal matchup with either Catonsville or Dulaney, and Murray has already begun drawing up new and grander goals for her team to accomplish.
“Tomorrow afternoon we're resetting the goals and we're starting fresh,” she said.
As for Wootton, it would take much more than an early exit to erase the accomplishments they achieved this season. They beat county powerhouse Bethesda-Chevy Chase not once, but twice; captured a division crown that hasn't been held by anybody other than the Barons for 14 years; and they became the first team in school history to finish with an unblemished regular season record.
“It's been historic,” Blandamer said of Wootton's season. “We talked to the kids about the doors they kicked down this season and the legacy they are leaving for the kids who come behind. … Tonight stings, it was a spectacular game but I think what the kids are going to take away from this is that Wootton belongs.”
As for the formula that was the undoing of the Patriots' perfect season, Blandamer just shrugged and said, “If you have to lose, I suppose you want to lose to a two-time junior Olympian. If anybody for WJ was going to get it done, it was going to be Anna.”
Walter Johnson 2, Thomas S. Wootton 1
Wootton (13-1-1) 1 0 0—1
Walter Johnson (13-1) 1 0 1—2
Walter Johnson—Katie Edgar, Anna Rowthorn-Apel