For an all-too-brief period Friday, Vandegrift’s hopes of joining Hendrickson in a neighborly Class 6A girls soccer final were very much alive.
But two late goals by Katy Tompkins lifted the Falcons to a 3-1 victory at the Georgetown ISD Athletic Complex and ended the possibility of a championship match between the Vipers and the Hawks.
“We were hoping for an all-Central Texas final,” said Vandegrift coach Jenifer Hardy, an Austin native who played high school soccer at Westlake. “We wanted it to be Hendrickson and us for no reason other than to finally have two Austin teams make it to the final.”
Vandegrift (19-2-4) came close to making such history. In the 67th minute, Vipers defender Kaylan Knitowski dropped a free kick into the box from 40 yards out. Tompkins goalkeeper Cailey Croson misplayed the kick, and Vandegrift’s Paige Crossman knocked the loose ball home to even the score at 1.
The Vipers’ elation turned into frustration two minutes later when a free kick by Tompkins (19-4-3) drifted long and skipped off the head of Knitowski and into the net for an own goal. As Knitowski knelt in anguish, her teammates gathered to give her pats of encouragement.
“You were defending your goal, doing everything you can to keep that ball out of the net like you’ve done all year, and you had an unlucky spin,” Hardy said about the defensive effort by Knitowski. “She did exactly what she should have done. She got up in the air and got that ball. It just spun the wrong way.”
Tompkins (19-4-3) removed any thought of late-match drama when Leanne Veary booted home a corner kick from Mikylin York with three minutes to play.
Vandegrift gave up just its 11th goal of the season when Tompkins freshman Barbara Olivieri headed in a long throw-in by Veary in the 14th minute. The Vipers responded with renewed aggression, forcing a pair of corner kicks and firing a shot on goal.
Their best chance came when Afrah Khan raced down the right wing and eluded a pair of Tompkins defenders before Croson hustled off her line and snuffed the attack. The Vipers also almost evened the match early in the second half when Knitowski launched a 45-yard free kick that deflected off the crossbar.
Despite the gut-wrenching loss, Vandegrift’s players and coaches understood the significance of their lengthy postseason run.
The Vipers, who won the Class 4A state title in 2014, reached the state tournament for the third time in the past four years despite moving up to Class 6A before this school year. Along with Hendrickson, their presence in the state semifinals gave the Austin area two girls teams in the same tournament bracket for the first time.
Despite their newcomer status in Class 6A, the Vipers never felt like underdogs.
“We weren’t surprised at all to be here,” said Knitowski, a senior who’s thinking of joining the Miami Hurricanes’ program as a walk-on. “We feel like we’re the best team here, and I think we should have won today.”
Instead, the Vipers will be rooting for Hendrickson on Saturday, when the Hawks face Tompkins in a matchup between two first-time state finalists.