No three-peat: Cougars fall in 3A state final
CHESTERTOWN — Before Chesapeake ran across the field together for the last time as a team, coach Joan Johnson wanted them to keep their chins held high, to carry grace and poise in their step on the turf — even if the sky had just fallen on them.
The Cougars (12-7) have earned a reputation this season as the “second-half team,” rallying for victories in key games from regular season to regionals. But on Saturday, another one wasn’t in the cards, and with it, the possibility of a third straight Class 3A state title was gone and in the hands of C. Milton Wright, which defeated Chesapeake, 3-0, for the championship.
“They were the better team today. We seemed to not be able to play our game today,” Johnson said.
“They came out strong and they came out ready to play,” Mustangs coach Kelly Mattingly said. “They’ve been wanting this for a long time now.”
But as Johnson circled up with her small squad, she told them they’d climbed so many impossible mountains already. This was just one they couldn’t muster.
“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘How are you 12-6 and in the state championship?’ I said that I’ve lost a lot of games by one goal,” Johnson said. “We have worked really hard through the season. My program has a total of 29 girls. That’s it, for JV and varsity. So we had to dig a little deeper. From beginning to end, you can’t make it to the state championship without a talented team.”
Forwards Samantha Aljet and Arrianna May notched the three goals for the Mustangs (16-1).
“They changed the momentum of the game and we kept the momentum,” Mattingly said.
From the start, the Cougars found less playing territory than they’d like. Aided by a blustering wind blowing in their foes’ direction, C. Milton Wright successfully penned Chesapeake on its own side of the field as the Mustangs pressed the circle tighter and tighter.
Keeper Eve Vickery (four saves) stopped the first Mustang shots on goal, but the black-clad attackers kept at it. It wouldn’t be long before they pecked through.
With less than three minutes down, Aljets plucked a momentarily loose ball and fired the first C. Milton Wright goal.
Then, four minutes later, Aljets scooped up a loose ball and cut to May. The forward made the shot, hitting the back of the cage.
Down by two, senior Mason Frechtel and sophomore Georgia Spangler nearly flicked in their own goal, but the ball took a sharp bounce out just inches from the cage.
“It got in our heads a little bit. We let them get too far of a lead,” senior Rachel Fleig said. “We were there, but we weren’t
Our mental game was rushed, we weren’t focused. It was a whole mess.”
Two goals to none was the very lead Chesapeake had cruised on to the title last year. But the Cougars were undeterred by this year’s obstacle — these were the “comeback kids,” after all.
And that’s exactly what Johnson told them as they huddled by their benches at halftime.
“That they were the second-half team. That this was their game,” she said. “We needed to mark up a little bit better, play better man to man. We did do that for a good long while, and they got a breakaway.”
In the second half, even with the gusts on its side, C. M. Wright continued to strip the Cougars in the field and break off for its own scoring attempts. But they wouldn’t — as the Mustangs scored three-straight corners, the Chesapeake defense, led by Hannah McKeon, batted the ball out of danger.
Corners were often the deciding factor in the Cougars’ games this season, usually in their favor. They’d trained hard on them in the rain on Friday, as they had for days. It was their “bread and butter,” in Johnson’s words.
But the Cougars had multiple corners awarded of their own in the second half, they just couldn’t capitalize.
Fleig, who’d ushered attacks on the Mustangs’ goal multiple times, launched a shot too short for fruition. Then, McKeon swept the ball back on goal, but her own attempt was tripped up by feet, ending any hope of making its way into the net.
“We tried to push up, give a little more pressure, because they had everybody back in the circle every time,” Johnson said. “We kept trying to push up further and further. Just couldn’t produce one.”
With the loss, Chesapeake’s three-year unbeaten postseason run hit the end of the road. The Cougars lose five seniors to graduation, including Fleig, who scored a record-breaking 70 goals and 50 assists with Chesapeake at the start of the playoffs and is bound for Appalachian State.
“The game didn’t go as planned, but I wouldn’t want to finish the season with any other team,” she said. “Winning or anything, I’d only want to play with this team for four years.”
Chesapeake's Alyssa Krueger, left, and C. Milton Wright's Annie Keele battle for control of the ball in the Class 3A field hockey state championship game at Washington College on Saturday.