George Washington seniors Charlie Lucente (1) and Andrea Breeden (dribbling ball) are part of a senior nucleus that has been a stabilizing force for a team that starts six underclassmen. The Patriots return to the state tournament next week still seeking their first title.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington has a notorious rap at the state tournament.The Patriots have advanced to the semifinals eight previous times, but are still seeking their first championship after losses in the championship game in 1999 and 2010.Last year GW didn't even make it out of sectional play after finishing the regular season No. 1 in Class AAA.But this year's GW squad won't be prisoners of the past and is waiting to seize another chance to do what other teams have failed to accomplish time and again when the state semis begin Tuesday at Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium. (See Page 2B for pairings and schedule.)
"Right now they're just excited to be back [at the state tournament],'' said GW first-year coach Derek Ragle. "I don't think they're thinking too much about the past. They're going to write their own story."The Patriots (17-4-1), who finished sixth in the final state coaches association rankings, have done just that, shaking off some late-season losses to propel themselves deep into the postseason.GW learned some hard lessons in falling to No. 3 Winfield (4-1), No. 4 Princeton (2-0) in the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship game, and AAA No. 1 and nationally ranked Morgantown (3-0) in the last few weeks of the regular season.The Patriots then embarked on their revenge tour, knocking off Capital 2-0 in the sectional final after getting upset by the Cougars last season in the semis, and edging Princeton 1-0 in the regionals."I think we just started playing our best soccer at the right time,'' Ragle said. "We finished the year playing some really tough teams - Hurricane, Winfield, Princeton, Morgantown. We really just buckled down. We went out and challenged ourselves on our schedule and it paid off. We got ourselves [in the state tournament].''The Patriots battled through a phalanx of six regional finalists (Parkersburg, Wheeling Park, Morgantown, Buckhannon-Upshur, Princeton and Winfield) during the season, dropping all but two games in preparation for their journey.GW also proved that it could overcome any obstacle after persevering through injuries to key starters over the last half of the schedule. The Patriots played without sophomore starter Kasey Rhodes for most of the sectional and the entire regional."On any given day someone steps up and delivers for us,'' said Ragle. "Everybody just comes out and does their job. It's been good enough to get us where we need to be."We don't have any one goal scorer. We're kind of well balanced, which I think is a good thing. You can't really game plan for any of our threats.''Junior Taylor Ellis, the second-leading scorer with 12 goals, moved from forward to defense late in the season to help stabilize a young back line.Sophomore Sara Bodnar has seven goals, but none was more important than her tally in the 1-0 win over Princeton in the regionals.
Sophomore goalie Olivia Miller is as steady as they come with 12 shutouts, including the last three postseason games.The backbone for the Patriots, though, has been seniors Charlie Lucente, Haley Claudio, Andrea Breeden, Stephanie Kelly and Catherine Geis, who all played at states as sophomores where they fell 2-0 to University in the title game.Lucente is the top scorer with 13 goals, while Kelly (nine) and Breeden (seven) are threats."All five of them have stepped up and been leaders this year,'' Ragle said. "Without those five seniors, we're not making the trip [to the state tournament]."When things would get tough in big games, in years past, I think the teams have panicked and this year, for the most part, have kept it pretty calm and persevered. [The seniors] step up in big moments and they're a big calming force for the girls.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.