It took nearly 40 minutes for Tabb to get on the board against James Monroe during Saturday’s Group 4A championship game in Virginia Beach.
Miya Denison’s goal with 23:23 remaining in the second half proved enough to give Tabb a 1-0 victory over the Yellow Jackets. Tabb has now won back-to-back state championships and have won six state championships in the last eight seasons.
Tabb Coach Wendy Wilson said this year’s state championship was extra special after having to replace 15 players from last year’s team.
“They’re all special in their own way, but this one is special because of the obstacles we had to overcome,” she said. “The girls just stepped up every time, and we had some players today who are only sophomores and freshmen stepping up big for us. They wanted it, and that’s what it came down to.”
The first half was about as evenly matched as possible as James Monroe and Tabb exchanged possession almost exclusively in the midfield. So even were the first 30 minutes, neither team recorded a shot on goal during the first half.
In a matchup of lesser teams, a game played in the midfield can sometimes lose its pace of play. Saturday’s game between extremely talented Tabb and James Monroe was far from slow as both teams jetted around the pitch and used quick passes to switch the field of play.
The evenly played first half resulted in a 0-0 halftime score, adding extra pressure to the second half.
“It was definitely a really tough half,” Denison said of the first half. “Both teams are really good. James Monroe is really good competition and they put up a really good fight.”
Once the second half got underway, the scoring opportunities began presenting themselves. With 26:45 left in the game, Lillian Way of Tabb sent a low cross into the middle of the James Monroe circle, but no Tabb attackers could get a stick on the ball.
Roughly three minutes later, Tabb’s Izzy Solaroli earned the first penalty corner of the game. On the ensuing penalty corner, the ball was played in to Courtney Fiest, who ripped a shot from the top of the circle. Fiest’s shot traveled about 10 yards before deflecting off the stick of Denison and into the back of the net for the game’s lone goal.
“I got a touch on it praying for it to go in,” Denison said of her goal. “It was such a relief. We just knew we had it once it happened.”
Closing out an explosive James Monroe team would not prove that simple. Less than two minutes later, James Monroe’s Lizzie Hamlett found herself in a one-on-one breakaway against Tabb goalkeeper Katie Dowling.
In what is a risky play, Dowling came off her line and dispossessed Hamlett with a stick poke to shut down the scoring opportunity. Hamlett’s instinctive play allowed Tabb to hold on to its narrow 1-0 lead.
With just over 14 minutes left to play, James Monroe earned its first penalty corner of the game. Dowling came up big once again, blocking a shot by James Monroe’s Libby King off the penalty corner.
Dowling’s save gave way to a Tabb counterattack that found Denison streaking down the left side of the pitch. Dribbling inside the James Monroe circle, goalie Teagan Hicks made a clutch save to deny Denison’s second goal of the game.
With tensions growing on the field, Wilson called a time out to calm her girls down with 4:12 left in the game.
Despite the timeout, Denison earned a green card with 3:09 left in the game, putting the Tigers a man down for the next two minutes.
“Those two minutes were very stressful,” Wilson joked when Denison went out with a card. “Whenever something happens, the girls find a way to step up. When Miya had to sit out with the card, the other girls stepped up and we had people dropping into positions they don’t normally play just to protect our win.”
Tabb (20-1) managed to kill the clock, screaming with joy as the final buzzer sounded. In what has become almost a yearly tradition, the Tabb Tigers finish their season sitting atop Group 4A in field hockey.
Tabb 1, James Monroe 0
Goals: Tabb (Miya Denison)
Assists: Tabb (Courtney Fiest)