For the third year in a row, the Oakton High girls lacrosse team is heading to the Concorde District Championship game after defeating Westfield 18-9 in the semifinals Tuesday.
Though the Bulldogs opened scoring with a goal in the first minute, the Cougars went on a five-goal scoring spree from Kelsey Clarke, Claire Stikeleather, two from Danielle Palmucci — all assisted by Carly Palmucci — and Jackie Rupp.
But the Bulldogs mounted a comeback to come within one goal of tying in a span of just over two minutes. Then Oakton goalkeeper Emily George made a series of key saves to keep the Cougars in the lead and turn the momentum back in their favor.
"We weren't doing the basics, we weren't doing playing the good hard-nosed defense. We just had to tighten up the defense a little bit," Coach Jean Counts said. "... [George] is playing her best as a senior. ... I think the fact that she did stop those, they would have come right back into it, which would have made a completely different atmosphere."
The Cougars again went on a scoring spree with goals from Clarke, Alex Revel and two from Rupp to put the Cougars up 9-4 at halftime. Carly Palmucci tallied six assists in the first half.
In the second half, the Cougars picked up where they left off adding two goals — from Allison Turk and Revel, both assisted by Rupp — about a minute in. The Cougars piled on the goals, at one point leading by 10, to outscore the Bulldogs 9-5 in the second half.
Revel scored two more goals in the second half, while Tori Anderson, Carly Palmucci, Rupp, Turk and Catherine Miller each added a goal for an 18-9 final score.
The last time the Cougars and Bulldogs faced each other, the score remained tight for the majority of the game with the Cougars winning with a five-point margin.
"Our last game against them, we were just coming out of our rut," Rupp said. "We've gotten into our flow now and we know each other better."
Counts agreed it has taken a while for the team to gel, despite the years the girls have spent playing together both at Oakton High and through club teams.
"We have to play a complete game, which we haven't always been doing this season," Counts said. "We'll play some great halves or great halves of halves, but great complete games haven't always happened for us."
The Cougars, pursuing their second straight district title, will face the Centreville Wildcats in the final Friday at Chantilly High. The Wildcats defeated the Cougars .
"We really want to win because Centreville is one of our main competitors in the region, so beating them could help lead us on a road to states," Rupp said. "I think if we play our game, we can definitely win. The last time we played them, we lost because we weren't playing our own game."
But Counts is staying focused on winning the Concorde District title before thinking about a run at the state title.
"Going step-by-step is so important. It is a long-term commitment with excellent teams in there. There is no overlooking anybody or side-stepping anybody," Counts said. "It would be awesome to go out there and play a complete game, regardless of what the score might be at the end."