Lakeland makes states

Published 6:05 pm Thursday, November 5, 2009

Led by a goal and an assist by junior forward Taylor Young, Lakeland’s field hockey team won 2-0 over Kecoughtan and earned a spot into the VHSL Group AAA State Tournament in the Eastern Region Tournament semifinals on Thursday at the U.S. Field Hockey National Training Center.

The win snapped a 9-year-long streak of the Lady Cavaliers reaching the regional tournament, but coming up one or two wins short of the state tournament. It’s the first-ever appearance into the state tournament for Lakeland field hockey. The emotion sparked by both goals and the celebration directly after the final whistle fit the accomplishment.

Head coach Tara Worley, who’s coached Lakeland through the streak of Southeastern District titles, but regional disappointment, was the fastest one off the Lakeland bench when the final whistle sounded. Worley hugged two players at the same time after a 40-yard dash, starting what became a jumping team hug within a few seconds.

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“”I just told them, there’s no (postgame) talk today. It’s all celebration,” said Worley.

“I’ve never seen coach (Worley) this happy in her life,” said Young.

Lakeland beat Kecoughtan 1-0 in the regular season and Thursday’s meeting could’ve similarly gone either way for much of the match. The only big statistical advantage for Lakeland was a 7-3 advantage in penalty corners and Lakeland cashed in on a corner just before halftime.

After building more pressure in and around the Kecoughtan arc for a couple minutes, and just after having one corner turned away by the Kecoughtan defense, Young was in the right position to finish the next corner play for Lakeland.

Kelsey Smither took a pass from Kendell Combs and blasted a low shot on goal. Kecoughtan’s goalie made a kick save, but the rebound deflected high toward the center of the arc. Young met the falling ball waist-high and batted it straight into the back of the cage, giving Lakeland the lead with 3:04 left in the half.

“I was just really, really happy when we scored. I can’t explain the feeling,” said Young.

Meanwhile, Lakeland’s defense was holding up against Kecoughtan. The Lady Warriors, the No. 2 seed from the Peninsula District, had their chances.

“Kecoughtan is really aggressive and they have three really, really strong players…who can penetrate into the circle. They’re fast, their whole team is fast and they have good ball movement,” said Smither.

Lakeland goalie Marissa Betkowski, who is often able to record shutouts without making a save in lopsided Lakeland victories in the regular season, came up big when the Lady Cavaliers needed her.

At the 15:00 mark of the first half, Betkowski slid nearly the whole width of the goal to make a save near the left post.

About five minutes into the second half, Kecoughtan forward Chelsea Hines had a 1-on-1 break in on the Lakeland cage. Betkowski, coming way off her line and sprawling to take away any low shot from Hines, tipped Hines’ shot wide to keep Lakeland’s 1-0 lead. Betkowski finished the match with five saves.

Senior midfielder Alyssa Chirico played goalie for a critical second on one of Kecoughtan’s two penalty corners in the second half. Chirico saved a shot that would’ve been just inside the left post to keep the score 1-0.

Chirico’s play, “made a huge difference in the game,” said Worley.

Down the stretch, the best defense for Lakeland turned out to be more offense. With the clock nearing 9:00 left, Combs and Jennifer Hedrick had shots on goal. Both were saved and Lakeland gained a long hit from the right sideline.

On the play in from the sideline, Young controlled the ball in the center of the Kecoughtan arc and slid a pass toward the left post, Combs was cutting in on goal and shot, beating the keeper inside the post, making it 2-0 Lakeland with 8:21 left.

“(Kecoughtan) wanted it just as bad as we did because we were both in the same spot as far as never making it to states. We just had to fight really hard,” said Young.

“She’s very excited. She definitely showed it.” said Smither about her coach.

“Every year, we got to this same point. It’s just finally nice to get over it. It’s just a really good feeling,” said Smither.

“I’ve told them, once it looked as though we could get here, anything after today is just icing on the cake,” said Worley.

“If I know this team though, they want to win every game, so they’ll be ready to play tomorrow,” said Worley.

Lakeland (19-1) advances to the state tournament, but also to the championship match of the Eastern Region Tournament. Lakeland will face the winner of Thursday’s second semifinal, between Cox and Gloucester, at 3 p.m. Friday at the U.S. Field Hockey National Training Center.