With a 1-0 win over Herndon on Wednesday, the Oakton High field hockey team advances to the Concorde District Championship.
The Cougars will face Westfield in the title game for the third consecutive year. The Bulldogs, who will host today's 7 p.m. game, have not lost the district championship in four years.
On Wednesday, Alex Ricketts scored the game-winning goal for the Cougars within the first five minutes. The Cougar offense struggled to penetrate the Hornets' defense the rest of the game, putting their fate in their own defense's hands.
"We always like to score early, it gives you that little bit of comfort to start the game," Coach Kaitlin Fleischmann said. "We were very fortunate to have that goal early because we ended up having to rely on our defense the rest of the game."
Despite mounting pressure in the last 10 minutes of the game, goalkeeper Ciera Cooney and the defensive line kept the Hornets scoreless. Cooney recorded 10 saves.
"They had very, very hard hits. Herndon's main focus as a team was to basically get the ball and then hit it as hard as they could into the circle," Cooney said. "So I think what our defense did was mainly try to keep our sticks down and stay marked once they would hit it in."
Rather than be intimidated by Westfield's 15-2 record — both losses to out-of-region powerhouses — the Cougars are excited.
"Part of the reason we played so hard tonight is because we want a rematch against Westfield so badly," Cooney said. "... We've just gotten so much better, and I think everyone wants to show them who we really are now."
Both Cooney and Fleischmann pointed to Oakton's 5-0 loss to Westfield on Sept. 14 as a turning point for the Cougars.
"That loss did turn our season around, and I keep telling the girls it's just two teams with 11 girls. We're going to go into it just playing our game," Fleischmann said. "It's always fun to be an underdog. You have nothing to lose."