Ashburn, Va. — Coming off a state runner-up finish in 2022, the Tuscarora High School girls soccer team wanted to get an early indication of where they stand in their 2023 season, so they traveled to Brambleton to tango with reigning VHSL Class 5 State champion Briar Woods on March 20 in Ashburn.
The Huskies got on the board early on a miscue by the Falcons’ defense then added an insurance goal midway through the second half to win 2-0, handing Briar Woods just its second loss since the beginning of the 2021 season.
“Playing a state champion is always challenging, but with us playing in the state championship last year, we wanted to come out and see where we are this year,” Tuscarora head coach Dave Gryder said. “Our team stepped up tonight in regards to that challenge.”
It didn’t take long for the Huskies to step up to the challenge as senior forward Lauren Mattingley capitalized on a lapse in the Briar Woods defense less than five minutes into the game.
As Briar Woods tried to play the ball back to its keeper, Mattingley intercepted the softly played ball and had a one-on-one opportunity with the goalie as the second-team all-district striker buried the attempt to put her team up 1-0 in the 5’.
“They tried to play back and just didn’t see Lauren in that position,” Gryder said. “I think it kind of caught them off guard a little bit.”
Tuscarora didn’t waste any time trying to add to its lead, challenging the Falcons’ keeper nine different times in the first half.
The Huskies’ second best chance in the first half came in the 38’ when senior midfielder Ava Marvin fired a shot on goal but the Briar Woods keeper made a diving save to preserve the 1-goal deficit heading into the half.
“We had other opportunities throughout the game but didn’t finish,” Gryder said. “But we felt really confident with how strong our first half was.”
Holding a 1-0 lead, the Huskies knew the Falcons were going to press in the second half but the Tuscarora defense held strong, maintaining possession and field position for most of the final 40 minutes.
Briar Woods did, however, break free in the 62’ minute with a chance to even the score as a scrum ensued in front of the Tuscarora net. The Falcons got off two or three quick shot attempts in a row, but Tuscarora junior keeper Lara Dix corralled the ball to subdue the Briar Woods threat.
“People were being aggressive, trying to get a foot on it: we were trying to clear it, and they were trying to do anything to push it in,” Gryder said. “Luckily, the ball ended up in our goalie’s hands.”
Just a minute later, Briar Woods senior defender Amara Gleaves fired a shot off the crossbar in what would be the Falcons’ last best chance to tie the game.
That’s because on the ensuing Tuscarora possession, the Huskies went on the counter attack as senior midfielder Mia Serna blew past her defender and struck the back of the net to put the Huskies up 2-0 in the 65’.
“We knew they were going to push in the second half, so we were able to hold them off so it wasn’t so much coming at us,” Gryder said. “From there, we were able to counter and score the second goal.”
With a 2-goal lead and less than 15 minutes to play, the Huskies were able to hold off the Falcons, posting their third straight shutout to open the season.
While a 3-0 start is great for Tuscarora, the Huskies are far from accomplishing all the goals they’ve set for themselves this spring. The Huskies are looking to use the experience they gained from their 2022 VHSL Class 4 State championship appearance to make another run in 2023.
“It’s early in the season, but we’ve set goals that we want to achieve and giving our best effort against Briar Woods was just one of those goals,” Gryder said. “Our girls were not happy with how things finished last year, but we’ve established a culture of success in our program, and we’re looking to build on that this spring.”