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Group AAA Boys Soccer: Practice pays off for Eagles





CHANTILLY—The Colonial Forge boys soccer team worked on penalty kicks late in its practice on Thursday afternoon.

The session had a focused yet lighthearted feel. Sometimes Eagles head coach Jeremy Sargent and assistant coach Byron Spicer were in goal, playfully challenging their players to try to slide a shot past them. And other times, starting keeper Nolan Smith was in net, alternately swatting away shots or watching them zip past him.


    At Westfield High

    Friday’s semifinals

    Albemarle 2, Lake Braddock 1 (Patriots win 3–1 in PKs)

    Colonial Forge 1, Thomas Dale 0 (Eagles win 4–2 in PKs)

    Today’s final

    Colonial Forge vs. Albemarle, 1 p.m.

Then the drill ended, and the Eagles moved on to something else. But senior co-captain Kevin Roberts wasn’t finished. Smith had saved a few of his kicks, and Roberts didn’t like it, so while the rest of the team gathered near a sideline, Roberts continued to fire away.

“He has this thing that if he doesn’t score, he has to go until he has it down pat,” Smith said. “And I mean, I don’t get water for a few more minutes, but I’m perfectly fine with it.”

Neither player realized how much the extra work could help them in Friday’s Group AAA state semifinal against Thomas Dale. After 100 scoreless minutes, the game advanced to a penalty kick shootout. Smith saved two shots, and Roberts then calmly drained the clinching kick, sending Colonial Forge to a 4–2 win.

“I remember at practice, I was like, ‘I have to get four or five in,’” Roberts said. “I knew if it came down to penalty kicks, I’d be kicking fifth, and I needed to put it away.”

Once Roberts ripped a kick inside the right post to give his team the victory, the Eagles players and students streamed onto the field and swarmed Smith, a sophomore who is maturing in front of his teammates’ eyes. There was a brief chant of “Nolan! Nolan!” before everyone calmed down and focused on what comes next.

Next, of course, is the Group AAA state title game, the first in Colonial Forge soccer history. Although the stage is unfamiliar to the Eagles, the opponent is not. Colonial Forge will face Albemarle for the fifth time this season. The game will be played at Westfield High School at 1 p.m.

The Eagles won both regular-season games and the Commonwealth District tournament final against Albemarle. But in the Northwest Region title game, the Patriots overcame a two-goal halftime deficit and surged to a 3–2 win.

Now they will meet once again, and this time they will be playing for the biggest prize of all.

“You have no idea how bad I want this,” Roberts said. “The first time I’ve ever cried after a game was when we lost to them in regionals. If we can get that ring, it will trump that.”

Early in Friday’s semifinal, both Colonial Forge and Thomas Dale had trouble adjusting to the pace of the artificial turf at Westfield. Long passes skidded past the end line, and shots soared.

The Warriors had the first strong scoring chance in the 12th minute, as Dan Lauretano fed Grayson Smith, whose low, blistering shot was punched away by Nolan Smith.

In the 27th minute, Colonial Forge midfielder Tim Clancy ran down a loose ball near the corner, turned and pounded a quick, high shot that Thomas Dale keeper Tony Groben needed to leap to save.

After a scoreless first half, the Eagles had perhaps their most dangerous scoring chance in the 54th minute. Connor Hawthorne received a pass near the top of the penalty box and was one-on-one with Groben, but his chip shot sailed just wide right.

Colonial Forge, which plays exceptional possession soccer, seemed to wear down Thomas Dale in the second half. The Eagles calmly passed the ball around the field as the Warriors chased them and gasped for air.

“We had the better of play,” Sargent said. “But to Thomas Dale’s credit, their keeper made some great saves.”

The game pressed on through regulation and 20 minutes of overtime before reaching the penalty kick shootout. In net, Thomas Dale seemed to have an edge in size and stature.

Groben is a muscular senior co-captain who has been on this stage before. Smith, meanwhile, is a sophomore who split time with goalie Matt Myers for much of this season.

And in the first round, Groben smacked away Manuel Madrid’s offering and Evan Fowler scored, giving the Warriors a 1–0 lead. After Groben’s save, he raised and lowered his arms, as if to quiet the crowd. That did not sit well with Smith.

“I don’t know, I just didn’t think it was classy,” Smith said. “And it made me angry.”

After Colonial Forge tied the score with an Andrew Gogolin goal, Smith smothered Vaughn Fowler’s shot down the middle. Clancy then gave the Eagles a 2–1 lead, and Smith leaped to his left and saved an Antonio Carrabotta shot.

Colonial Forge’s Christian Lopez scored to make it 3–1, and Smith appeared to give the Eagles the win after saving Lauretano’s shot. The Eagles and their fans stormed onto the field and the Thomas Dale fans began to leave. Then the referee ruled that Smith had come off his line too early, a violation the goalie later acknowledged.

Lauretano converted his second chance, meaning Roberts needed to score to clinch Colonial Forge’s win. So the senior co-captain calmly approached the ball and thought about his extended practice session from Thursday.

“Confidence is such a big thing,” Roberts said. “So I just took a deep breath, and I placed it.”

This time, there was no doubt. The Eagles were marching on, continuing to make school history as they went.

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442