After graduating seven key seniors a year ago and dropping eight games before the Region 6B playoffs began, the Riverbend girls soccer team was thrilled to be in the position it was in Tuesday night.
The Bears hosted Virginia Beach power First Colonial in the Class 6 state quarterfinals.
Riverbend played the Patriots to a scoreless tie in the first half and matched First Colonial’s goal early in the second 40 minutes.
But in the end, First Colonial tacked on two more scores to escape with a hard-fought 3-1 victory to advance to the state semifinals and end Riverbend’s season.
Some Bears were teary-eyed at the end, but none left deflated as they expressed pride in the way they battled all season and competed hard against the Patriots (18-1).
First Colonial will get an opportunity to avenge its only loss of the season when it faces Frank Cox in the state semifinals on Friday at 10 a.m. at Deep Run High. Riverbend is left to reflect on its campaign.
“This season was a constant struggle for us to prove ourselves,” Riverbend senior midfielder Elizabeth Hummel said. “If you look at our record [13-9], the average person would be like, ‘No, they couldn’t make it this far.’ But I think what was so wonderful about our team is that we proved those people wrong at the end of the season.”
The Bears went on to become Region 6B champions. Hummel was named region player of the year after scoring 15 goals and dishing out 10 assists. Head coach David Wessel was named region coach of the year.
Riverbend’s momentum came to a halt, however, in the second half against the Patriots. Junior midfielder Gracie Tritt, who scored the Bears’ lone goal, said the physical nature of the game and Riverbend’s high-pressure strategy wore the team down in the end.
“We’re used to playing physical soccer,” Tritt said. “But obviously the more competitive it gets, the more physical it gets.”
First Colonial senior forward Idelys Vasquez scored six minutes into the second half to give her team a 1-0 advantage. The Bears responded to tie the game three minutes later when Tritt found the net.
“Obviously we weren’t happy,” Patriots coach Joe Tucei said of Tritt’s score. “We didn’t want to give up that goal but I liked the way we responded. That’s the way we’ve been playing all year long.”
It took 20 minutes, but the Patriots struck back with what proved to be the game-winner by Lindsey Branch with 11:22 to go in the game.
Vasquez added a second tally on a breakaway in stoppage time to seal the victory, but Riverbend’s spirit remained high.
“I couldn’t be happier with these guys,” Wessel said. “We were with them most of the game and that’s a darn good team over there. They’re going to be competing for a state title. I felt until the very end of the game we were right there with them. So there’s nothing these girls have to be upset about. I think the seniors left a lot of good stuff for the underclassmen. I’m excited.”
Riverbend is losing six more seniors this year, including Hummel, who is moving on to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
But there is a large group of sophomores and juniors returning who will look to build on one of the program’s most successful seasons since it captured the Group AA state championship in 2007.
“I think we’ve got a good foundation,” Wessel said. “We’ve got a lot of underclassmen back who I know are biting for the opportunity to lead this team like a Gracie Tritt, like a Nikki Koch. I know they’re ready to come out and play next year.”