LEXINGTON – In the final seconds, J.L. Mann’s Sarah Dixon couldn’t keep her eyes off the scoreboard.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was watching the clock count down and just was so excited when we won.”
The scoreboard at River Bluff High School had zeros Friday night, and it also had this: J.L. Mann 3, Wando 2. The Patriots, for the first time in three years, had beaten Wando and were Class AAAA girls soccer state champions.
“We have lost the last (two) years, but we learned a lot,” Mann coach Steve Georgopoulos said. “We learned how to come in and be more determined than ever and finish the job.”
Junior Marian Wolski beat a defender with a tremendous individual effort and then the keeper with a rapid-fire shot in the 56th minute to give the Patriots (26-1-1) the lead.
“I took a touch around that one defender and then ran and kept going toward the goal and just hit it as hard as I could, hoping it would go by,” Wolski said.
The Patriots still had to hold off the Warriors for 24 minutes, but they managed to do so and win the first state championship in girls soccer in school history.
Mann struck first when Claudia Murphy sent a pass from the right corner out top to Dixon, whose shot found the back of the net in the ninth minute.
The Patriots were called for a foul in the box in the 28th minute, and Wando’s Raymara Barreto converted the penalty kick to even the score at 1-1.
Four minutes later, Wando (19-3) took its only lead of the night. Hannah Betfort sent a shot from the left side that found the right corner of the goal.
“Our coach always told us it’s how you react to the situation,” Mann midfielder Meredith Bailey said, “so we’ve always had our composure and we knew we could finish, so that’s what we did.”
With three seconds remaining in the half, Dixon led Libby Stahlman with a splendid pass, and Stahlman didn’t miss, capitalizing with the equalizer.
“We learned since day one to play great soccer,” Georgopoulos said. “We’re not a team that will kick the ball up, and a runner will go and score. We play possession, and it’s so beautiful to see it, just like we had on the second goal with Libby Stahlman.”
The teams battled through more than 20 minutes of the second half before Wolski gave Mann the advantage.
Then the Patriots had to hang on before celebrating, before the relief and elation were equally palpable.
“Three years ago we were the first to ever make it to a state final at all, so to actually win one just feels amazing,” Dixon said.
“That’s the greatest moment an athlete can ever have,” said Bailey, “especially coming my senior year, and winning state. It’s my last game. It’s honestly the greatest feeling I could ever ask for.”