GAITHERSBURG – Following Nov. 2’s Maryland Public Scholastic School Athletic Association’s (MPSSAA) 4A State Quarterfinal game at Quince Orchard High School, Winston Churchill High School girls soccer Head Coach Haroot Hakopian said his team would have laughed at him four weeks ago if he told them they would make the state semifinals.
That is exactly where the Bulldogs are headed after a 2-1 win over the Cougars. Instead of laughter, Churchill was screaming and hugging ecstatically after taking another step on its improbable postseason run.
“It feels amazing,” Churchill sophomore defender Kate Quigley said. “We just started playing for each other instead of playing to lose. We all love each other and want to be here and work really hard.”
On Oct. 10, the Bulldogs were 5-5 after falling 2-0 to Walt Whitman High School for their third straight loss. They closed out the regular season with wins over Rockville and Poolesville, but their 7-5 record was only enough for the No. 4 seed in 4A West Region I. Following a 7-0 home win over Albert Einstein in the first round of the playoffs, Churchill avenged regular-season losses to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and Whitman in the second and third round.
The win over the Vikings gave the Bulldogs their first regional title since 2015 and only the second in team history. Unlike in previous years where a regional championship meant advancing to the state semifinals, MPSSAA moved the regional finals a round earlier and reseeded the eight regional teams for state quarterfinal matchups based on regular-season records. Churchill’s 7-5 mark was the worst of the eight regional champions.
“Going against teams that were much higher ranked than us in the playoffs, we knew they were the ones under pressure,” senior midfielder Emily Silver said. “We had nothing to lose and played more for each other and motivated us to go further.”
Quince Orchard entered Saturday’s game on a six-game shutout streak and allowed only seven goals all season. The Bulldogs withstood the Cougars’ early pressure in the first 20 minutes and controlled the run of play for the rest of the first half, getting on the board on a free kick in the 33rd minute. Olcott’s free kick was deflected by Quince Orchard goalie Paige McNeal, and Silver followed the rebound and put it in the back of the net.
All three goals in the game would be scored by set pieces, with the final two coming just minutes apart in the second half. Quince Orchard came out to start the second half looking for a game-tying goal and scored off an impressive free kick from 40 yards out by senior Lindsey Brick in the 44th minute.
Three minutes later, Churchill retook the lead on a corner kick. Quigley’s corner was deflected in the box by McNeal, and senior Grace Whitman’s first touch on the loose ball ended up in the back of the net.
“We worked on our set pieces because we’ve been dangerous against Whitman, we were dangerous against B-CC and we’ve been dangerous all through the playoffs,” Hakopian said. “On the corner kicks, if everybody’s doing their job, it’s just a matter of finishing them.”
Both teams had opportunities to score for the remainder of the second half, none bigger than the Cougars near game-tying goal in the 71st minute. A chip by Quince Orchard was sent into the box, and Churchill goalie Grace Merola and Cougar junior Michaela Belkin went for the ball, and Belkin won the battle and supposedly scored. However, Belkin was ruled offsides on the chip.
Despite some final frantic pushes, Quince Orchard failed to tie the game, and could only watch as Churchill once again celebrated on an opponent’s field for the third straight game. The Cougars reached the final eight teams for the third straight season, coming up short the past two after advancing to the state semifinals in 2017.
“I just told them I had an absolute blast this season,” Quince Orchard head coach Peg Keiller said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it but they’re great kids and I had a great time.”
Churchill will continue its run next Saturday appearing in the state semifinals for just the second time when it takes on Severna Park High School at Gaithersburg High School.
“We talk about it so much that our region is so incredibly difficult that making it through the region itself is a huge accomplishment,” Hakopian said. “But like we talked about at the end of the game, we want to go farther and win the school’s first state championship.”