Handley girls deal James Wood its first defeat

WINCHESTER — Not on their turf.

Handley prevented James Wood from clinching the Class 4 Northwestern District regular-season title and ended the Colonels’ perfect season with a thrilling 4-3 girls’ soccer win on Thursday at the Judges’ James R. Wilkins Jr. Stadium.

The Judges (12-2-1, 9-1-1 district) lost 5-1 to James Wood (14-1, 10-1) at Kelican Stadium on April 8 mainly due to Jolie Jenkins scoring the game’s first three goals in the opening 12 minutes.

On Thursday, it was Handley that scored the first three goals. The Colonels made a furious comeback with three goals in the final 28 minutes. But in the 69th minute, a laser direct kick from junior center back Ainsley Justice from a tough angle on the left side gave the Judges a 4-2 lead that proved to be too much for the Colonels to overcome.

James Wood had the game’s first shot in the third minute, but it was obvious from the start that Handley had no intentions of repeating its last performance against the Colonels. James Wood would manage just one other shot in the first half.

“We just wanted to come out here and show what we are,” Justice said. “Last time, we didn’t play our game, but we wanted to set the tone for this game and show them who Handley is.”

Senior captain and forward Taylor Roark said revenge was on the Judges’ minds.

“It didn’t feel good getting smacked against them,” said Roark, who had an assist on the game’s first goal and drew the foul that set up Justice’s goal. “We just came out and we just wanted to win every single ball and just give it 110 percent.”

Repeated Handley pressure opened the scoring in the 10th minute.

Emeryce Worrell made a cutback move on a defender and launched a low shot toward the far left post that goalkeeper Sami Stevens deflected out for a corner kick. Julia Nerangis almost scored on the corner when she grounded a shot toward goal, but Wood stopped it close to the goal line and cleared the ball for a throw-in.

Handley got the ball inside the 18 after the throw-in, and the Colonels couldn’t clear it. Payton Craig ran onto a rolling ball and fired a low shot past Stevens from 15 yards out.

In the 24th minute, the Judges made it 2-0 when James Wood wasn’t able to clear outside back Lauren Mason’s long free kick into the box. The ball traveled to the right side to outside back Madison Hobson (one assist), who sent a ball that was partially deflected high into the net from about 12 yards out.

Handley didn’t ease up to start the second half. Three minutes in, Worrell took a ball played by Hobson and fired a shot from more than 20 yards out into the upper left corner of the net to make it 3-0.

The Judges had a 9-2 shot edge and 4-2 corner kick edge at that point.

“Our big thing going into this was we set the tone,” Judges coach Haleigh Echard said. “We’re playing at home and this is our game. We wanted to be the ones who come out and set the energy and the intensity.

“I liked the fight from everyone. Everyone was in full force. We had a little bit of adversity with the goals James Wood scored, but we didn’t put our heads down. We just rallied. We were, ‘We’re good. Momentum is still with us.’”

James Wood got on the board in the 52nd minute. Jenkins (two goals) broke free of the Handley defense and moved toward goal, but before she could get a shot off she was upended on a slide by Handley goalkeeper Emma Westfall (five saves) in the penalty box for a foul. Westfall was issued a yellow card and had to come out, and McKenna Newcome (one assist) sent the ensuing penalty kick into the goal past the temporary keeper Mason.

Another long run with the ball from Jenkins off an Olivia Walker pass produced another opportunity, and this time she pushed the ball to the left past Westfall for a goal to make it 3-2 Handley in the 64th minute.

James Wood had hit the post and the crossbar in between its two goals, and had a couple more opportunities in the ensuing few minutes after Jenkins’ goal.

But as Echard said, Handley didn’t buckle. Roark made a long run with the ball at her feet before she was fouled about 13 yards from the end line and five yards away from the penalty box on the left side.

Handley makes a point of emphasizing working for your teammates, and in that moment Roark was aggressive and helped her team. When the foul was called, she had no doubt Justice would take advantage.

“I always make sure [one of the dark spots] on the ball is at the very bottom,” Justice said. “I watched my foot hit [that dark spot] and I knew as soon as I hit it it was going in. I hit perfectly right on [the dark spot], and whenever that happens I know, ‘This is going in.’”

Down 4-2, James Wood kept coming, and in the 77th minute Jenkins scored on a rebound after Westfall had saved a Newcome shot. The Colonels would get a couple corner kick opportunities after that, but the Judges held strong. When the final whistle blew, they screamed and ran to embrace each other.

“It feels amazing to win this,” Roark said.

“It was a whole team effort,” Echard said. “There was not one player that I think did better than the rest. We all worked. Everyone did their job. Everyone competed the way that they know they can, and I think it’s positive for us heading into the postseason.”

Kettle Run took James Wood to overtime on March 29, but even that was a two-goal win for the Colonels. No team in district had been closer in a game with James Wood until Thursday.

James Wood coach Donavan Russell felt his team was flat. The Colonels had a tough 4-1 win against third-place Kettle Run on Tuesday He added the 4:30 start opposed to the typical 7 is always an adjustment, as well as playing on Handley’s artificial turf. He added that it’s simply not easy going undefeated as well.

“It’s hard to stay at the top all season in any sport,” Russell said. “It brings added pressure to a team. Having the target on your back, being on top, it starts to increase that pressure you have on yourself to be ready to play.”

Russell said the team just wasn’t itself. He felt the Colonels didn’t connect well offensively and wasn’t sharp with its passing, but he did like that his team gave great effort and played better in the second half.

Though James Wood was denied the district title Thursday, the Colonels can capture it on Tuesday if it wins at Sherando.

“Let’s move on to Sherando from here and end the season strong,” said Russell of his message to the team.

Handley announced it was a district and region title contender when it opened its season with a 1-0 win at home against Loudoun County on March 16. The Judges had never really been healthy since until Thursday’s game, when they beat the team they consider a measuring stick.

“We always just say, ‘Burn Wood,’” Justice said. “Anytime we do something well, it’s ‘Burn, Wood.’ I feel like every game was in preparation to beat Wood. They’re our biggest rival, and we treat every game like it’s James Wood.”

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