Ashburn, Va. — For the spring sports teams at Independence High School, COVID-19 meant not donning their school uniforms for another full year. After opening their doors in the fall of 2019, like everyone in the VHSL, the Tigers missed out on their spring 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic. So when the Independence girls soccer team finally got the opportunity to put on their red, white, and blue kits, they were going to make the most of it.
In 2021, the Tigers navigated a daunting Dulles District schedule—falling just three times in the regular season to three of Loudoun’s most decorated soccer teams at Broad Run, Dominion, and Loudoun County—earning the No. 6 seed in the VHSL Region 3B tournament.
From there, Independence showcased their preparation and determination, cruising past No. 3 William Monroe, 5-1, in a region quarterfinal; shutting out No. 7 Maggie Walker, 3-0, in a region semifinal; and outlasting No. 5 Brentsville, 3-2, in the Region 3B championship game.
By winning the region title, Independence earned home field advantage through the VHSL 3A State tournament—and like they had throughout the regular season and region tournament—the Tigers used a full team effort to shut out Region 3A Champion Lafayette, 4-0, in a state semifinal on June 21 in Ashburn.
“We can’t believe it, but yet we can believe it, because we’ve been working towards this for quite a while,” Independence head coach Ann Vierkorn said. “We’re a new program, but our girls are so coachable and they’re so all in. I’m just really proud of them.”
What the Tigers lack in experience, they make up for in effort and selflessness, and that story reigned true in their state semifinal win over Lafayette as four different Tigers scored on assists from three different teammates.
A back-and-forth first half certainly favored Independence, but the home team couldn’t find the back of the net early on. That was until senior forward Cameron Shackford found sophomore forward Angela Grof-Tisza open in front of the net, and Grof-Tisza made the most of the opportunity putting the Tigers up 1-0 with less than 6 minutes to play in the first half.
“We were really composed and didn’t force anything,” Shackford said. “That goal was huge because it gave us a lot of confidence heading into halftime.”
The Tigers opened the second half extremely aggressively, but the Rams held them at bay through the first 20 minutes until junior midfielder Grace Hamel lofted a shot over the head of the Lafayette keeper to expand the Independence lead to 2-0 with 18:09 to play.
Then, less than two minutes later, Grof-Tisza returned the earlier favor from Shackford, setting the senior up for a goal as the Tigers were in complete control, 3-0.
“These kids’ camaraderie and fight is just in them; you can’t teach that,” Vierkorn said. “Whether they’re the star player on the field or the last player off the bench, all these kids want it that bad. They’re all on board.”
With less than 14 minutes standing between them and a trip to the state championship game, sophomore forward Reagan Wise added the final exclamation point on a free kick from 20 yards out.
“Over the course of the season, we’ve had twelve different players score for us,” Vierkorn said. “One of the things we’ve been saying all season is ‘we don’t care who scores, we just care that we score.’ Our girls have learned to be so selfless with the ball.”
In just their first season together, the Tigers are state championship bound, where they’ll host Western Albemarle in the VHSL 3A State title match on June 23 in Ashburn.
“We worked our butts off,” Shackford said. “We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
|1H||5:57||Independence||Angela Grof-Tisza (from Cameron Shackford)||1-0|
|2H||18:09||Independence||Grace Hamel (from Kaitlyn Nimmer)||2-0|
|2H||16:14||Independence||Cameron Shackford (from Angela Grof-Tisza)||3-0|