Woodrow Wilson and George Washington are no strangers to each other when it comes to postseason play.
Thursday night the Flying Eagles and the Patriots will again do battle, this time it will be for the Region 3 girls and boys soccer championships.
While the Woodrow girls were winning their first sectional crown in Julie Agnor’s four years as head coach, the boys were knocking off Greenbrier East for the second year in a row in PK’s.
“They are very excited to play Thursday. I think when you win a sectional championship and you get the feeling of winning, you get that desire to keep going,” Woodrow Wilson girls head coach Julie Agnor said.
While Agnor felt her team could win a sectional title this year, she knew it might be a rocky road leading to the postseason.
“We are really young. I only have four seniors,” Agnor said. “It’s hard because when you are young, they need time to play together. Having the season to mesh, gel and learn from each other on the field, it took some time. I knew they had it in them, it was just a matter of it coming out.”
With her young team facing a difficult schedule, Agnor felt if they could weather the storm, it would pay dividends in the end.
“I hated pushing those hard teams on them during the season, but at the same time you have to. You have to be able to see how you can compete, stand your ground and mentally overcome those things,” Agnor said.
The payoff for the Flying Eagles seemed to occur in a late-season shutout win over Winfield.
“They realized at that point just how good they really were. They realized if they could just play to their potential, they would be fine. It was just a matter of getting over the hump,” Agnor said.
Freshman Mya Wooton and junior Sophie Hall lead the Flying Eagles (9-8-5) in scoring, but Woodrow Wilson has benefited by solid play all over the field.
“When you look at stats, you don’t see the players that are pushing the ball forward. The ones that are getting wide and the ones that are making crosses. It is amazing to see how the players all value each other. It is easy to be selfish and want to have the best stats. They have overcome that selfishness and pushed each other to be the best that they can be.”
Returning an experienced roster to start the season, boys head coach Steven Laraba felt confident his team could win the sectional crown. However, just like the girls team, the road was not exactly a smooth one.
“It has been an interesting season. We had a tough stretch where we had an injury and a player had Covid. Then we had a red card and a player that had to sit out a couple of games,” Laraba said. “That period has helped develop this team though. We have everybody back now and everybody is up to game speed.”
The rough patch was likely the reason Woodrow Wilson (9-7-3) was saddled with the No. 3 seed in sectional play. That meant to win the championship, Woodrow would have to go on the road at No. 2 Oak Hill and then travel to top seed Greenbrier East.
“This group has worked really hard, and they are great young men. They dig deep and they don’t have any quit in them,” Laraba said. “We definitely needed that on Thursday against (Greenbrier) East where we were able to get the equalizer in the last two minutes. They have battle through a lot of different adversities.”
Both Beckley teams will also be looking to avenge regular season setbacks. The girls dropped a lopsided game, while the boys fell 2-0 in the first encounter.
On the girls side, the Flying Eagles held their own for a half against George Washington (17-1-3) before the game slipped away in the second half.
“We were mentally defeated in that game. The key for me is going to be keeping them focused and not let them panic,” Agnor said. “I went back and watched the game to see what we did and where we went wrong. I picked out a couple of things that we need to fix and how we can attack.”
The boys on the other hand were a couple of missed opportunities away from knocking off the Patriots (19-1-1) in their first meeting.
“There were multiple times in that game where it could have been 1-1 before it got to 2-0. That gives us a good feeling to know that we can play with a team as good as George Washington. We just have to hope the ball bounces our way a couple of times,” Laraba said. “I think we will have to do a better job of keeping the ball ourselves. They are a very good team, and they took the majority of the play. We will have to be more assertive with our play when we have the ball.”
Both games will be played at the Fields at Trace Fork. The girls contest will start at 5 p.m. and the boys will play 30 minutes after the conclusion.
Both Beckley teams understand the road is a tough one Thursday, but it is not an impossible one.
“One of my center-backs, Sydney Vaught said, ‘The cool thing about soccer is anyone can win.’ I told her she was exactly right, and anyone can lose. It is all about who wants to win the most,” Agnor said.