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Kettle Run beats Champe to become champ in region girls soccer

Friday, Jun. 6 | By Jeff Malmgren
Erika Blevins had a hand in creating four of Kettle Run's five goals during a 5-2 win over John Champe in the final of the Class 3A East Region tournament Friday in Aldie. --Photo By Adam Goings
The John Champe Knights seemed helpless against set plays conducted by Kettle Run’s Erika Blevins.

It was like Blevins gave each ball a telekinetic flight path to keep it away from the Knights’ reach.

The Cougars converted three of those set plays into goals during the second half Friday as they rallied to beat John Champe, 5-2, during the championship game of the Class 3A East Region girls soccer tournament in Aldie.

“She just knows how to place it,” Cougars coach Elizabeth Martin said of Blevins.

The senior midfielder scored on a free kick from 46 yards out and set up a pair of Taylor Decker headers for goals off corner kicks. Those goals helped the Cougars recover from a 2-1 halftime deficit and win their first region championship in program history.

“It’s a big honor to be able to do that,” said Decker, another of Kettle Run’s seven seniors.

“We’ve worked so hard for this moment,” Blevins said. “Our senior year, to leave on this note, it’s just really awesome.”

The Cougars (13-5-2), in fact, left the field at John Champe (8-12-2) around 2:30 p.m. and many of them headed back to Kettle Run for a 6 p.m. graduation ceremony.

They will next play soccer June 13 in the semifinals of the 3A state tournament at Amherst High against the loser of a West Region final between Blacksburg and Lord Botetourt.

“That’s so exciting,” Blevins said. “Now we have the opportunity to go to states and really prove what we can do.”

“I feel like we can win the whole thing,” Decker said.

The state final will be Saturday at Liberty University.

Champe also qualified for state and will play in the semifinals against the West Region champion. The Knights have made a surprising postseason run after going 3-11-2 during the regular season and ending the 2013 season with a 0-16 record.

Champe entered Friday on a five-game winning streak in the playoffs.

“When you’re losing so much, you have to get over that hump,” Knights coach David Madlin said of his program’s progression. “Once we got over the hump with that first win, we just kept rolling. … The team didn’t have that winning mentality” at first.

The Cougars’ season played out similarly. They went 7-5-2 during the regular season and won only one of their final four games. They’ve since won six consecutive playoff matches.

John Champe appeared poised to end that winning streak Friday. During the final six minutes of the first half, Celine Estrada and Blair Thompson scored consecutive goals to give the Knights a 2-1 lead at halftime.

Kettle Run, however, quickly responded less than four minutes into the second half with a Decker goal. Blevins made a short pass to her, playing the ball up the middle of the field, and then Decker spun around a defender to take a short shot. Champe goalkeeper Robin Kim drove and deflected the ball, but it still bounced into the net to tie the game, 2-2.

Less than four minutes later, Blevins launched a corner kick from the right side that flew elegantly toward the far post of the goal. Decker ran onto it and converted with a solid header to give Kettle Run a 3-2 lead.

“Erika has a perfect corner kick,” Decker said.

“Taylor always knows where to go; where I’m going to hit it,” Blevins said. “I trust her to finish.”

Little more than a minute later, Champe’s Thompson received a yellow card, setting up a 46-yard free kick in the middle of the field for Blevins. With another impressive strike, Blevins pin-pointed the ball into the top left corner of the net.

“Nothing you can do about it,” Madlin said. “It was a beautiful goal.”

Blevins had the help of a steady wind that earlier benefited the Knights in the first half.

But “she’s scored a lot of those [long] goals” Decker said. “She just has a really good free kick.”

The goal gave Kettle Run a 4-2 lead with 30 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the second half.

The Cougars later finished the scoring with a Blevins-to-Decker corner-kick goal that looked nearly identical to their first collaboration.

“We needed to be a little bit tighter with the marking, especially after the first one,” Madlin said of the corner kicks. “The same goal twice … we’re disappointed with the goals we gave up, for sure.”

Martin designed a new corner kick play for the Cougars in the playoffs. The new runs made by her players have produced a lot of goals thus far.

“They were pretty awesome,” Martin said of the conversions Friday. “Erika placed them perfectly and Taylor was right where she needed to be.”

Earlier, Kettle Run took a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the first half on an Allie Zuras goal. The Knights, however, created far more scoring opportunities in the first half with the wind at their backs.

Champe took three free kicks and four corner kicks during a 27-minute span after Zuras’ goal, but the Knights didn’t score. Soon after, though, Estrada and Thompson produced to give them a halftime lead.

“We had them,” Madlin. “We just ran out of steam.”

The Knights didn’t create nearly as many scoring opportunities in the second half, and Kettle Run rallied.

“We are the come-back team,” Decker said. “We’ve been in this position a lot this season. … We’ve always come back from it.”

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