HARRISONBURG — The first time the Eastern Mennonite High School girls’ soccer team played North Cross this season, the Flames lost 3-2 on April 22, a contest that was competitive because of a late-game formation shift by EMHS.
The Flames went from their usual 4-3-3 to a 3-4-1-2, mimicking the scheme North Cross uses.
“I was … a little bit concerned, just because we hadn’t tried it yet,” EMHS senior center back Julie Cline said. “But once we switched it, I felt really confident.”
So confident that the Flames stuck with it for the rematch Saturday in the Blue Ridge Conference tournament championship game.
It was a good decision.
The second-seeded Flames, led by their reconfigured defense, beat North Cross 3-2 in Roanoke to win their ninth straight BRC championship.
“We played really, really inspired,” EMHS coach Jason Capps said Sunday. “We decided to switch formations. We matched them in their formation and we knew that we were the better team and just sort of had this mindset that we’re going to match up and we’re going to prove it.”
Junior defender Abby Byler and junior midfielder Bailey Waizecker each scored a goal for EMHS off assists from sophomore forward Rachel Keefer. Waizecker’s goal turned out to be the game-winner.
The right-footer, using her left foot from the left side of the field, scored in the 44th minute from about 17 yards out. The ball got past the goalie on the right side and helped secure the conference title.
“I had been hitting some good left-footed shots in warmups, so I thought I’d take a chance,” Waizecker said.
The Raiders’ goal came in the 56th minute, and Leah Wenger, EMHS’s sophomore keeper, made several crucial saves in the final seconds to preserve the win.
The Flames (12-2) now head to the eight-team Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state tournament, where they will host The Highland School from Warrenton on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Defending state champion EMHS – which lost seven starters off last year’s team – is the second seed. The Highland School is No. 7.
Against North Cross (12-1-1), the Flames knew switching their formation would work because, when they did it in the first game, they scored two goals after making the change. At the time, EMHS was losing 3-0, and Capps said the reason his team rallied was because of the new formation.
It was a no-brainer to stick with the strategy Saturday.
“I just decided to pull the trigger then, and we scored two goals,” said the sixth-year coach, referring to the April 22 game. “… We dominated like that, and I decided I’m not even going to be secretive about it.”
EMHS never trailed Saturday, going up 1-0 on Byler’s goal in the eighth minute and prevailing in a tight, physical game.
“It was pretty equal possession,” Cline said. “… It was a lot of pressure, very intense, and I would say pretty physical but not dirty. It was a good physical.”
Cline was one of four EMHS players named to the BRC all-tournament team, joining Wenger, junior forward Sylvia Mast and junior midfielder Taylor Pisk.
Pisk also was named the BRC Player of the Year — the third straight Flame to win the award, which has been given out for only three years. Pisk, Keefer, Mast and sophomore midfielder Laura Rittenhouse were named first-team All-BRC, and Wenger was named second-team All-BRC.
Halftime score: 1-0 EMHS
Shots on goal: EMHS 12; NC 8
Corner kicks: EMHS 3; NC 4
Saves: EMHS (Wenger) 7; NC (Sayers) 10
Scoring: EMHS – Byler (Keefer) 8:00, Waizecker (Keefer) 44:00; NC – Maurer 56:00