Walter Johnson Girls Soccer Escapes Wootton Scare To Win Region Title
Wisconsin recruit Murtha’s penalty kick in final minute sealed 5-4 victory
The Walter Johnson girls soccer team after the victory over Wootton. Credit: Jennifer Baker
The Walter Johnson High School girls soccer team is different this fall and has been from the start. While it might not have the same depth of technical ability as years past, eighth-year coach Liz Robinson said, the Wildcats’ unity, togetherness, heart and willingness to play for one another, have helped them reach new heights. Those intangibles shone through in Wednesday night’s 5-4, comeback victory over Thomas S. Wootton in the Class 4A West Region final, during which Walter Johnson competed down a player for 62 minutes after its goalkeeper received a red card.
The Wildcats (16-1), making their first state tournament appearance since 2002, are scheduled to face Class 4A South Region champion North Point of Charles County in Saturday afternoon’s state semifinal hosted by Prince George’s County’s Henry A. Wise. They are seeking their first-ever state title and have never reached the championship game.
“This feels awesome; it’s my senior year and this has been our goal since my freshman year,” said four-year leading scorer Cammie Murtha, who notched the game winner on a penalty kick in the 80th minute. “It’s [Robinson’s] first time as a coach and she always talks about when she won a state title [with Wootton in 1998].”
Though Walter Johnson was the heavy favorite entering the region final after defeating Wootton, 5-1, in the teams’ regular season meeting Oct. 19, nothing about Wednesday’s win was simple. There was even a brief moment midway through the second half, Murtha reluctantly admitted, when it crossed her mind the Wildcats’ season could come to an abrupt end. With less than 20 minutes remaining in regulation, Walter Johnson, which led 3-2 at halftime thanks to goals from Murtha, CJ Maloney and Anya Ditchek, trailed 4-3 and was struggling to settle into a rhythm in its forced new formation that featured only one player up top.
“We are a technical team that’s very possession-minded and it’s hard to play [that style] when you’re down a player,” Murtha said. “We were kind of panicking and playing kick-and-run and it’s hard to possess when you’re doing that.”
With more space for Wootton (9-5) to create offense, Walter Johnson’s Rachel Lux and Nicole Lopez-led backline, which conceded a goal to Patriots junior Caroline Wang 36 seconds after Maloney gave the Wildcats an early 1-0 lead, did a nice job scrambling to protect the the frame against several very dangerous charges forward that featured crafty footwork and strength, by Wang and Jillian Gonzales (two goals apiece).
It was a long ball over the top by Gonzales to Wang’s feet that drew Walter Johnson’s sophomore goalie Ally Holden off her line in the 19th minute—Holden stifled the scoring opportunity, but drew a red card for the tackle.
Walter Johnson led 3-1 before Gonzales scored with just under nine minutes left in the first half. She then tied the game at 3-3 on a free kick in the ninth minute of the second half. Wang’s second goal, in the 54th minute, gave Wootton its first lead, which the Patriots held—and threatened to expand, several times—until the 15-minute mark.
Walter Johnson was awarded a free kick from 25 yards out when Murtha, who drew several defenders with every touch on the ball, was fouled. The University of Wisconsin recruit received the ball and fired a shot that deflected off the left post but Maloney was there to finish it and even the score at 4-4.
Murtha, who assumed various roles all over the field during the course of Wednesday’s game, then scored the game winner when she was awarded a penalty kick with 57 seconds left on the clock.
It was a disheartening loss for Wootton, coach Elizabeth Seligman said, but a positive step for the program. The Patriots overcame deficits in their previous two playoff games, including a win over previously undefeated Northwest in the Section I final, for their second region final appearance since 2013 after several down seasons. And they certainly made Walter Johnson work for Wednesday’s win.
“The game plan was to play as hard as we could, we had nothing to lose; we could either win or lose the game,” Seligman said. “These girls gave everything they had. There were some bumps in the road [this season] but we overcame them. We are definitely losing some strong seniors but this is a positive step for the Wootton program.”
The Walter Johnson boys soccer team after its victory over Northwest. Credit: Jennifer Baker
Walter Johnson Boys Soccer withstands Northwest’s late surge for region title
Wildcats senior forward Zion Friday notched two goals to help lift Walter Johnson over Northwest, 3-1, in the Class 4A West Region boys soccer final, also played Wednesday at Wootton.
The Wildcats, who won the last of their three state titles in 2006, will make their first state tournament appearance since 2011 Saturday, against Prince George’s County’s Eleanor Roosevelt.
After the teams traded quick goals in the first half, senior midfielder Danny Tran scored the go-ahead goal early in the second half. Northwest, propelled by its speed and athleticism, kept Walter Johnson under pressure late in the second half but Friday’s second goal of the evening, on a 40-yard shot, put the game out of reach.
Wildcats coach Hector Morales said competing in arguably the state's strongest region all season, prepared Walter Johnson for the physicality it faced Wednesday.
“[The game] was a lot closer because we were having some trouble finishing in the second half, but Northwest worked, from start to finish, they worked their tail off and made it that close,” Morales said. “It was great awareness from Zion to pick his head up and see where their goalie was and give us that big of relief. It was a good game.”