The crowd at Whitman High School’s stadium field fell completely silent in the third minute of double overtime during Monday night’s girls’ soccer game against Montgomery 4A South Division rival Winston Churchill. After a collision, Vikings junior midfielder Michelle Innerarity fell to the ground, grabbed her leg and shouted in pain.
Not five seconds after Innerarity walked off the field with the help of coach Greg Herbert — the injury turned out to be a leg cramp, a pain Innerarity had never felt before — Whitman senior midfielder Aliza Wolfe scored the game winner on the ensuing free kick to lift the Vikings’ spirits right back up.
The Rice University recruit looped a 35-yard shot — or possibly a spectacular cross that forced Churchill keeper Tania Mamdouhi to hold her space — just inside the left goal post to clinch the 2-1 double-overtime win.
“This is a rivalry these girls know about growing up, so, I think for Aliza to get that goal was pretty special,” Herbert said.
Games between the traditional rivals never fail to entertain. Churchill (5-3-1) defeated Whitman (7-0-1), 2-1, during the 2012 regular season but the Vikings ended the Bulldogs’ season in the region tournament. Coaches agreed playing a game of that caliber, playoff soccer, in October, will be beneficial as the postseason nears.
Things won’t get any easier for Whitman, which closes out its season against four-time Class 4A Region champion Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Walter Johnson and Our Lady of Good Counsel. Herbert said by that time the Vikings will surely be battle tested.
Monday was Churchill’s third straight loss but by far its best display of soccer in a week, coach Haroot Hakopian said. The Bulldogs played with four in back against Whitman rather than it’s typical three and it helped harness Whitman’s speed early.
But the Vikings are a lot more than fast. They’re extremely technical and cerebral within their team speed and they adjusted quickly. They worked the ball around the field effectively and in the 20th minute, reaped the benefits to take a 1-0 lead when junior forward Emma Anderson broke right through the center of Churchill’s defense to score on an uncontested right-footed cross inside the left post. Anderson’s scoring run started with senior Anna Gurney’s great through ball.
“We talked all week about how fast [Whitman] is and that we can’t have more than one square pass in the middle,” Hakopian said. “We had two in the middle and they made us pay.”
Bulldogs’ sophomore midfielder Nicole Brodkowitz evened the score at 1-1 early in the second half and had several opportunities to take a lead as Whitman deviated from the possession style of play that propelled it earlier. Herbert, who attributed that to Churchill’s higher pressure, said he was pleased with the way his team regrouped.
“I think it was nice to have a game like this in October, it’s like November soccer,” Herbert said. “Churchill always plays every team hard, we knew they were going to come out and be aggressive. I think it was good for us because we haven’t played a team as physical as they are yet and we responded well.”
Walt Whitman 2, Winston Churchill 1 (2OT)
Churchill (5-3-1) 0 1 0 0 — 1
Whitman (7-0-1) 1 0 0 1 — 2
Churchill — Nicole Brodkowitz
Whitman — Emma Anderson, Aliza Wolfe
Whitman — Anna Gurney