Goal accomplished

Published 11:55 pm Saturday, November 13, 2010

From left, Lakeland’s Taylor Young, Kelsey Smither, Alexis Albright and Kendell Combs converge to celebrate Combs’ first goal of the match, in the 25th minute, of Saturday’s Group AAA state championship. The Lady Cavaliers went on to a 3-0 win against Mountain View.

Lakeland wins its first state field hockey championship with a perfect season

VIRGINIA BEACH – Lakeland won its first state field hockey championship and completed a perfect 23-0 season with Kendell Combs’ hat trick leading to a 3-0 win over Mountain View Saturday in the VHSL (Virginia High School League) Group AAA championship at the U.S. Field Hockey National Training Center.

The state final was the last match win or lose for eight Lakeland seniors, Combs, Taylor Young, Brittany Milteer, Megan Johnson, Jennifer Hedrick, Marissa Betkowski, Olivia Graham and Kelsey Smither. The victory accomplished a goal the Lady Cavaliers, especially the seniors, set a year ago when Mountain View knocked Lakeland out of the state tourney in the semifinals.

The Lady Cavalier blitzed through the three state tournament matches by a combined score of 12-1.

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“Every year we improved a little bit more and it’s just really exciting to end our senior year as state champs. I don’t really know how else to describe it right now. It’s just exciting,” said Smither.

“This was our goal all along and we finally did it. Everyone deserves it with all the hard work and effort. It really means a lot,” Graham said.

Mountain View, the runner-up of the Northwest Region, lost four times this season to Stafford, Lakeland’s semifinal opponent Friday afternoon. For the first 20 minutes of the final though, the Lady Wildcats played Lakeland toe-to-toe.

“Mountain View came out and really had a lot of intensity. They really put us under a lot of pressure,” said Lakeland head coach Tara Worley.

Lakeland called a timeout about 10 minutes into the match and Mountain View called time at the 10:13 mark of the first half. At that point, the Lady Wildcats had the only two shots on goal.

The Lady Cavaliers made their first shot on goal count.

It was a remarkably simple play from a penalty corner. Combs passed from the corner spot to the top of the arc. Johnson tapped the ball to Smither. Smither passed toward the left post where Combs was unmarked to redirect the ball into the cage.

All three goals in the championship came from corners via set plays the Lady Cavalier seniors have spent an untold number of hours perfecting during the last four or more years.

“We work on corners every practice so our plays are fresh in our mind,” Smither said. “We actually had some rough corners Tuesday (a 5-0 win vs. McLean in the quarterfinals). Today, we were definitely clicking with our corners. We came up with an idea about what would work and went with it.”

Lakeland seized the momentum for good by doubling its lead in the last minute of the first half. Combs finished a corner, scoring from practically the same spot, after Smither passed to Jamee Albright and Albright sent a deflected ball that still made it across the goal mouth to Combs.

“I was actually hoping to just hold on to the lead until halftime,” Worley said. “The second goal was icing at that point. It really put the pressure on Mountain View to come out.”

Eleven minutes into the second half it was Combs to Johnson to Smither and back to Combs for the 3-0 Lakeland lead. Smither sent a blast on goal and Combs, stepping in front of the Mountain View goalie, tipped the shot past the keeper into the ceiling of the cage.

“Hours on end, endless, we’ve all worked so hard,” Combs said. Specifically about the corners, “no, I don’t know, but it definitely paid off. All the work paid off for us.”

Combs finishes her Lady Cavalier career with 109 goals. Smither had 123 assists in her four varsity seasons. Smither’s assist mark, according to topofthecircle.com, is a national high school record for a four-year career.

Betkowski, Lakeland’s goalie for the past four years, made the two saves early in the match and that was it for the final 45 to 50 minutes. The Lady Cavaliers allowed three goals this season.

The title comes in Worley’s 12th season coaching the Lady Cavaliers. Lakeland’s won 21 straight Southeastern District championships, between season and tourney titles, but didn’t reach a state tournament until last fall.

The first-ever state title goes with Lakeland’s first-ever Eastern Region championship this season.

“This is such a special group for so many reasons,” Worley said of the senior class. “There have been highs and lows as a group and individually. Some of the highs and lows have been life-changing for some. We’ve gone through this journey together and I honestly love them.”