VIRGINIA BEACH – Haley Schleicher and the First Colonial field hockey team had been waiting 363 days for this game.
A year after losing 1-0 to Cox in the 2014 6A State final, the Patriots earned a championship rematch with the Falcons on Saturday morning at the National Training Center.
First Colonial had been knocking on the championship door the past two seasons, finishing as state runner-up in 2013 and 2014.
Today, the Patriots kicked down the door with authority.
Schleicher led a Patriots offensive outburst en route to a 6-2 victory that gave First Colonial its third state title in the past five years.
“I’m honesty just still in shock right now,” Haley Schleicher said with a bright smile. “I’m so excited. We’ve been waiting for this all season, and finally it’s like all our hard work paid off. Just an awesome feeling.”
All three of Cox and First Colonial’s prior matches this season were decided by one goal, so the Patriots’ runaway win Saturday over its rival shocked many in the crowd.
After 20 scoreless minutes to start the game, Schleicher knocked in a corner opportunity from the left side of the net for the day’s first goal. The Patriots had no time to celebrate, as Cox’s Leah Crouse answered with a goal just 36 seconds later, tying the match 1-1 with 9:29 left in the first half.
Just two minutes later, First Colonial struck again. Sophomore forward Riley Taylor pounced on a loose ball in front of the net and rifled a shot past Falcons goalie Maddie Arndt, giving First Colonial a 2-1 lead with seven minutes left in the half.
Less than three minutes later, Patriots junior forward Cameron Strickland streaked down the field during an offensive transition and fired a shot in stride to put First Colonial up 3-1 with 4:31 left in the half.
That two-goal lead was the largest margin between the two teams all year. The Falcons hadn’t given up more than two goals in a game all postseason.
“After we scored the second goal, we just didn’t let off,” Schleicher said. “We just kept going, because we knew we had to.”
“Being up 3-1 on a good team that can score in bunches, we were still on our toes in the second half,” Patriots coach Beanie Schleicher said. “We didn’t go into the second half thinking we have this. We couldn’t.”
It turned out First Colonial’s offense was just getting started.
Strickland sliced through the Cox defense with her second goal nine minutes into the second half. Seven minutes later, Taylor scrambled for an unassisted goal, extending the Patriots’ lead to 5-1.
Cox’s Crouse notched her second goal of the game off a feed from Alex Brewer with 9:55 left in the game to cut the Falcons deficit to 5-2, but it was too little too late.
Schleicher tacked on another goal to make it 6-2 with just over two minutes left in the game. The Duke University commit book-ended the game with two goals and her stellar high school career with two state titles. She also won one as a freshman.
The Patriots finished the match with a 17-7 advantage in corners and a 13-5 edge in shots. First Colonial’s defense stifled a Cox offense that failed to generate much rhythm.
“When we went up 4 to 1, they were very confident in what they could do,” Beanie said of her defense. “Sticking to their man and playing disciplined — it was the key for us.”
The Falcons played one of their more uncharacteristic games of the season. Cox’s defense let too many First Colonial counter-attacks lead to breakaway goals. Digging a multiple-score hole against a disciplined Patriots defense was too much for them to overcome.
“I felt like we could not sustain the momentum today,” Cox coach Julie Swain said. “They are a team that will capitalize on those opportunities, and they did a great job of doing that today. I was just trying to get them focused on one goal at a time, just try to keep it on attack. It seemed like we couldn’t sustain attack today, which was different than the other times.”
Swain said her young group is positive about growing from the loss. A majority of the Falcons’ core will be back next year.
“It’s hard at Cox. With 18 titles, if you don’t do anything but win another title, it’s tough,” Swain said. “They’re going to learn from this and be back.”
Saturday’s result was a year in the making for a Patriots group that wouldn’t have wanted to face any other team in the finale.
“It fired us up,” Haley Schleicher said.