Westminster girls win first ever Final Four game, advance to title game

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HUNTSVILLE – Competing in its first Final Four in school history at Huntsville’s John Hunt Park on Thursday, May 9, the Westminster at Oak Mountain girls’ soccer team wasn’t scared of the big moment or the two hour weather delay that halted play at halftime, as the Knights put together an inspiring performance.

Behind two first-half goals from Katie Hoaglund and one apiece in the second half from Virginia Welch and Tori Deen, Westminster took down Cottage Hill 4-0 to make school history and advance to the Class 1A-3A State Championship game on Friday, May 10, at 7 p.m.

Both teams came into the matchup sporting solid seasons with the Knights sitting at 15-2-1 overall and Cottage Hill at 17-4 overall, but the difficulty of Westminster’s schedule, as well as their experience, paid off.

With the Warriors having nine seventh graders and one eighth grader on their roster, as well as 15 of their players being sophomores or younger, it was tough to matchup with the Knights, who have been on the verge of this moment for the last several years.

While the Knights are also young with 12 sophomores or younger, they had been one of the top two teams in the 1A-3A classification each of the last three years, and this year they finally capitalized on that talent.

Early in the matchup, Westminster showed its talent level and what has made the team so successful throughout the season—constant pressure.

While they sometimes miss on opportunities early in games, like they did in the first 10 minutes of this matchup, the Knights normally get going after seeing a goal go in, and that’s what happened again.

Through the first 14 minutes of play, Westminster got a few good looks on deep shots, but Cottage Hill keeper Meg Hannan made some great stops to keep the game scoreless.

That all changed with 25:17 to play in the opening half when Hoaglund got her first shot of the game. After grabbing the in the middle of the penalty arc, she turned around and fired a hooking shot toward the right post before it hit the post and slid into the goal for a 1-0 lead.

Less than four minutes after that goal, Hoaglund found herself in the right spot at the right time again. After teammate Morgan White was tripped up dribbling the ball, the ball was eventually chipped right to Hoaglund.

With two defenders surrounding her, one on each side of her, she used her strength to create just enough space between the two at the top of the box before firing a hard roller to the left side of the net, which completely through off the keeper to put the Knights on top 2-0 with 21:55 to play in the half.

Westminster couldn’t capitalize on a few more solid chances in the first half, but just controlling the ball kept them 2-0 at the break.

And then came the weather.

Over the next two hours, it poured and a tornado warning ended up being issued at one point setting back play two hours.

But finally, around 2 p.m., the teams took to the field again and resumed the second half.

And while the field was sluggish and you might expect players to be a little stiff and slow to start the second half, Westminster was the opposite.

Just two minutes in, Morgan White played a nice ball to Virginia Welch on a cross, and Welch capitalized with a great goal to put the Knights on top 3-0 with 38 minutes remaining in the half.

For the rest of the half, the Knights rarely let the ball cross midfield as they continued to control things offensively.

A few minutes later, Hoaglund just missed her hat-trick goal when she hit the cross bar solidly deep inside the box. But shortly after that, she played a key part in another goal.

With 23:10 remaining, she lobbed a high cross from right of the box that caused issues for the keeper. Hannan stepped under the ball, but it slipped through her hands and behind her.

Once the ball got behind her, Tori Deen was able to slip a foot in and get just enough of it to put another goal on the board for Westminster.

Now up 4-0, the Knights were able to rest some of their key players while getting valuable experience for others ahead of the state championship game on Friday.

The ball was still played on their end of the field for the majority of the final 20 minutes, as the Knights closed out the game with ease for the 4-0 victory.

Westminster will now take on Altamont on Friday night at 7 p.m. Earlier this season, the Knights beat Altamont 3-0. This time, a win would also mean their first state championship in school history.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.