Payton Mullen is one of several freshmen that have helped Charleston Catholic reach the state tourney.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Catholic freshman Sophie Bumgarner would never have imagined scoring the winning goal in regionals before the season started. And her fellow freshmen could never have dreamed how far they have come in such a short time."Our first few games Sophie Bumgarner said, 'This is so hard. The girls are so big,' '' said Fighting Irish first-year coach Amy Mullen, who starts five freshmen."Each game she's gotten stronger and stronger and better and better. Each player has. At halftime of each game [our players] would say, '[The opposing players are] so strong.' Then [by the end of the season] they would say at halftime, 'I think we can take them.' ''The Fighting Irish have had to grow up quick and did so at a remarkable pace. Catholic (15-5-2) won its first five games, finished fourth in the final Class AA-A state coaches association rankings and now finds itself in Friday's state tournament semifinals at the YMCA Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, one win away from the title game. (See Page 2B for pairings and schedule.)Catholic went toe-to-toe with No. 1 Sissonville in the regionals, playing to a 1-all tie after 110 minutes of regulation and overtime. Then in the penalty-kick shootout, Bumgarner came through on the fifth and final attempt.Last year the Irish were knocked out in the sectional tournament after winning the previous three state titles."I am surprised,'' said Mullen of her team's development. "It's very exciting. Each game we would be ahead of some of the [teams] and they'd come back and score. We weren't 80 minutes steady. When we played Sissonville we were able to play 80 minutes and then some.''Bumgarner and freshmen Payton Mullen, Peyton Keener, Caroline Dundervill and Amanda George have infused the Irish with talent. Dundervill is the top scorer with 18 goals followed by Mullen's 14, Keener's 13 and Bumgarner's eight.
The only two seniors on Catholic's squad - Jenny Borman and Hannah George - have helped the younger players find their way. George, who has 11 goals this season, and Borman were part of the Irish's three-peat from 2008-10."[Jenny] really has helped those freshmen in the back and guide them along,'' Amy Mullen said. "She knows what the girls have to do and the commitment it takes. They all look up to her. [Hannah has] shown great leadership up front.''The Irish played a challenging schedule that included 10 Class AAA schools, posting a modest 5-5 record but gaining so much from the experience. The Irish led AAA No. 4 Winfield 1-0 at halftime and No. 6 GW 2-1 with 18 minutes left but couldn't close the deal. GW and Winfield are both in the AAA state tournament field. "Now we're a little more confident,'' Mullen said. "I think [the tough schedule] gave us the experience to be able to be ready for every game. I think it's really just taken time for us to get the confidence that we can do it."We have a lot of young players and they're having to go against seniors and juniors. They just weren't used to it. I just think after each game how we would have success and we couldn't hang onto it. As the year progressed we hung onto those games longer and longer.''And now they're winning them.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.