In 12 wins, the Kellam High girls soccer team has scored 73 goals and allowed none.
But to right the wrongs of postseasons past, the No. 2 Knights’ lone defeat could be its most crucial result.
Kellam was undefeated in two previous seasons before suffering its first loss in the playoffs. This year, Kellam was 10-0 before falling to top-ranked First Colonial in overtime 2-1.
“I feel like every time we lost (in past postseasons) we haven’t gotten the opportunity to fix ourselves,” senior forward Chloe Limbach said, “and this year we’ve gotten that. I think that’s truly gonna be our biggest benefit in the postseason.”
More than just tactics have improved.
“It definitely gave us an ability to see what we need to work on and realize we’re not invincible,” said senior defender Abigail Pesut, a Randolph-Macon commit. “We have to be ‘on’ 24/7.”
Kellam has become a more complete team with Limbach’s return earlier this month. The VCU signee had been sidelined with an injury but in her absence, the Knights developed depth and versatility.
“We mainly had backs playing as forwards,” Kellam coach Mario Hurdle said. “We had to adjust and get better and it gave us a bit of depth playing in different positions. Having her back really gives us more strength and more power.”
The defense has plenty of those traits. The return of Pesut, who missed last season with a torn ACL, is a key reason for 12 shutouts in 13 games.
“She’s a big voice and big presence,” Hurdle said. “Girls respect her. She’s probably one of the best center backs in the area. She’s a force. Big, strong kid and has a voice. And we always preach team defending, get numbers behind the ball, have your shape, try to be as good as possible on set pieces.”
Kellam’s camaraderie seized the spotlight in a regular-season finale win over Kempsville. Players on the field and bench clamored for Pesut to score a goal for Senior Night and after three missed attempts on corner kicks, Limbach declined a prime opportunity in favor of a pass to Pesut who blasted in a near-post shot.
“The team dynamic is just unmatched at any other school,” senior midfielder Mira Sansone said. “I think we play for each other on the field and that’s what you see and that’s why we’re so successful.”
Sansone, Pesut and Limbach are the only three seniors on a team with a large sophomore class. That disparity has actually formed one of the most cohesive groups the seniors can remember.
“In years past (at team dinners) we’d eat at somebody’s house then leave,” Limbach said. “This year we’re at somebody’s house for three to four hours playing spikeball, playing games, watching film together. We do everything together.”
“They are the best part of my day,” Pesut said. “Getting here I laugh my butt off every single practice and it makes it so much fun. It pulls you away from the seriousness of the game sometimes because it adds a fun element. It makes you actually want to play for your team and succeed.”
Ray Nimmo, email@example.com