Cadets girls repeat as state champs on the soccer pitch

Sidwell gave St. John’s all it could handle in regulation. But in overtime, Maliah Morris, left, netted the Cadets a score to give them their second DCSAA soccer crown. The win capped a stellar year where St. John’s also won the WCAC for the first time since 2011. (photo by Cory Royster)

With time running down in the first overtime of the D.C. State Athletic Association girls soccer championship game, St. John’s junior Maliah Morris heard the official countdown — eight, seven …

As the official got to six, Morris fired a shot into the top corner of the cage. Sidwell senior goalie Brooke Harrington read it and dove to get a glove on the ball.

But Morris’ kick did what the Cadets had done to foes throughout the fall — overpowered the opposition and found the goal. The score lifted St. John’s to a 3-2 overtime win and its second straight state crown.

“It was unbelievable. I heard the ref counting down,” said Morris. “All of my teammates kept saying, ‘Shoot it! Shoot it!’ So at that point I was like, ‘We deserve this.’ So I took the shot.”

Saturday’s victory notched a historic achievement for St. John’s. It marked the first time the Cadets had won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference crown and the state title in the same year.

“It is very special. Our school hasn’t done both of those. We got to win the WCAC and D.C. states,” said Morris. “We weren’t satisfied; we wanted more. We wanted to say we were the best in the WCAC and in D.C.”

With a record of 19-2-1, the Cadets entered the DCSAA tournament on Nov. 7 as overwhelming favorites and rolled through Washington Latin (with a score of 7-0) and Wilson (3-0) before meeting Sidwell, which had a 11-6 season record, on Saturday night at Georgetown University as temperatures plunged into the 30s.

When Saturday’s game started, St. John’s showed how dangerous its offense can be by scoring in the first minute of the contest. Senior Grace Walsh dished the ball to Morris, who pressed toward the goal — drawing defensive attention to create space for junior Meaghan O’Donovan. Morris then threaded a pass to O’Donovan who knocked in a 1-0 lead.

But Sidwell — which took an underdog’s path to the title game as the No. 7 seed by upsetting No. 2 School Without Walls (with a score of 6-0) and No. 3 Georgetown Day (1-0) — never wavered.

The Quakers began to control the ball, and senior forward Nicole Willing persistently perplexed the Cadets defense. She was finally rewarded with a score on a header to tie the game at 1-1 by halftime.

The Cadets struggled to find their mojo without one of their best players: sophomore Makenna Morris, who missed the game due to a commitment with the national team.

“It’s very hard,” said Maliah Morris, Makenna’s older sister. “She has such a big impact on the team. But I believe everybody can play on this team and if one goes down someone else has to step up.”

Facing adversity, the Cadets turned to Walsh, one of their team captains, to provide a steadying hand on the field and as a leader.

“She is unbelievable,” the older Morris said. “She is undeniably one of the best players on the team and led us to victory.”

The teams remained tied at the half, but after the break, St. John’s came out swinging. The Cadets’ aggressive approach was rewarded with a quick goal when Morris created offense with a pass to senior striker Nicole Lawson to retake the lead at 2-1.

Sidwell again had an answer on an assist from a quirky play. The Quakers were playing the ball inside the St. John’s box when the Cadets seized it and passed it back to their keeper Caitlin Bierwirth. But when the keeper accidentally handled the ball, the Quakers were granted a free shot from penalty-kick range. Sidwell senior Annie Boasberg tapped it to senior Abby Meyers, who capitalized to tie the game.

The Cadets had three great shot-on-goal opportunities to end the game in regulation, but all three narrowly missed, with one even rattling off the post.

St. John’s had grown accustomed to championship drama after winning the WCAC on penalty kicks six days prior and was the aggressor in overtime to end the contest.

“It was very frustrating,” Morris said. “After we went into overtime, we just came together as a team and said, ‘We got this. We have to settle in and it will come.’ And it did.”