The T-D columnist lauds the teams that conducted themselves with sportsmanship on Saturday.
Caitlin Abernethy fought it for as long as she could.
She practically bit her lip. But as she talked about her teammates and their final game together, her emotions overcame her resolve.
Tears began to flow.
And it was as if permission had been given to other Prince George players to let their emotions go as well.
These were tears of happiness and celebration. Prince George, after years of trying, broke through softball’s state ceiling and won the Class 5 championship Saturday over Brooke Point.
Prince George wasn’t the only winner. Champions were crowned in Virginia High School League Class 5 and Class 6 competition at Glen Allen and Deep Run in softball, tennis, soccer, baseball and lacrosse.
While the winners were determined Saturday, these championships were years in the making.
Prince George pitcher Laura Thompson, a senior, has played softball most of her life.
“Since T-ball,” she said. She’s thrown thousands and thousands of pitches, played in almost as many games, lifted weights and worked on speed and stamina in the off-season.
“I push myself to the limits,” she said
She and her sister Sarah — with their brother they are triplets — already have begun the workouts for the Concord College softball team, where they will play next season.
The motivation for this has to be something bigger than winning a state title or playing in college.
Championships are a byproduct of making the effort to be the absolute best.
“We were told to play for the little girl that started off in softball and to never look back,” Thompson said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I think all of us truly believe that.”
There are no guarantees, though. Hours, days, months and years of diligent, often exhausting off-season work don’t necessarily lead to championships or college careers.
In the boys Class 5 soccer championship game, Deep Run and Albemarle went through regulation and four overtimes in searing, cramp-inducing heat before Albemarle claimed a victory in a way few want to see any match end, on penalty kicks.
When all the effort that goes into reaching a state title game fails to result in victory, it’s good if you’ve acted as a champion during the game. Players don’t realize it, but someone always is watching.
In the second half Saturday, Albemarle midfielder Wesley Cheuk (Chuck) and a Deep Run player got their legs tangled on the sideline. Cheuk went down and immediately grabbed his left leg. He was in obvious pain.
It was any endurance athlete’s worst enemy, a severe cramp.
Along came Deep Run’s Austin King, who grasped Cheuk’s shoe, lifted the leg into the air and gently pushed Cheuk’s toes backward in an effort to neutralize the cramp.
Cheuk didn’t realize who was holding his leg aloft.
“No, but I was very thankful for him,”
Cheuk said. “It was great sportsmanship.”
Earlier in the game, Cheuk and King, both juniors, had exchanged blows to the mouth when their arms were flailing as they went after a loose ball.
“I said, ‘My bad.’” King said. “He said, ‘My bad.’”
“Nothing intentional,” Cheuk said.
When Cheuk went down later, King said, “I just felt like I should show him some respect, show some sportsmanship.”
The hard part of playing for a championship is acting like a champion when things don’t go your way.
In that regard, the Douglas Freeman girls’ soccer team could give a tutorial.
Saturday, the Rebels lost to Briar Woods in a morning match. The Freeman girls did not let the loss ruin their day. They were practically irrepressible.
It wasn’t that the Freeman girls, who upset Deep Run to get to the championship game, hadn’t prepared to win.
Hastings Crenshaw began playing soccer “in the womb,” she said. “I came out kicking.”
Along the way, she and her senior teammates Shannon Galt and Sarah Halsey have played in hundreds of games for Freeman and on travel teams.
“We worked our butts off to get here,” Crenshaw said. “I don’t think anyone really prepares for a loss. You come in wanting to win. You come out with a loss, it is what it is, but you’ve got to play to win. It’s kind of crazy that it’s over.”
Freeman coach Bill Bartoszek was proud of his team’s run to the championship game and how the players handled disappointment.
He also was realistic. “We weren’t expected to be in this spot,” he said. “We’re happy being the runners-up in the state.
“The expectations weren’t to get to the finals. Next year, they’re probably going to think they should win everything. If we don’t, I think you’re going to see a different mood with this team.”
Probably so. And it will be a pity.
Deep Run’s Josh Kirkland and Matt Shriner react after Albemarle won the Class 5 boys soccer state title after four overtimes and penalty kicks.
Douglas Freeman’s Lauren Bruns gets tangled up with Briar Woods’ Katherine Bjornsen during Class 5 girls soccer. Freeman’s team exemplified good sportsmanship.