When a goal from Morgan Mick hit the back of the box, it gave Matoaca a 1-0 lead over Glen Allen. That goal was what propelled the Warriors to their first state tournament.
But a lot more went into the making of the team.
The roots can be traced all the way back to second grade for seniors Annie Grace Louthan and Ally Butler. That’s when they started playing field hockey together for the Richmond Panthers United field hockey club. They’re gunning for a state championship and on their way to playing college field hockey: Louthan at Mary Washington and Butler at Wake Forest.
Key seniors such as Morgan Mick, Anna Pletch and Jillian Puepkke joined the duo as freshman on Matoaca’s roster three years ago. The 2019 version of the team has been excellent, and in some ways, dominant. Their 15-2 overall record includes a regular-season loss to Deep Run and a 1-0 loss in the 5B Region championship game to Atlee.
Over the course of the year, Matoaca has outscored its opponents by a 75-4 margin. That’s even more remarkable when you consider the goalie, Butler, had hip surgery in March and was slated to miss the whole season.
Butler surprised coach Deborah Wallace at the Glen Allen game with a doctor’s note that she was cleared to play half the game.
“It was horrible to lose her,” Wallace said. “She’s the best goalie in the area. It would be losing like Annie Grace. We were fortunate to have an unbelievable defense to make up for that loss.”
A sophomore that filled in at goalie all season long, Erin Lovato, and a nails-tough defense, led by Pletch and Puepkke, have been keys to the program’s success.
Then there’s Louthan. The senior, who currently ranks second in VHSL history with 117 career goals, is a humble, team-first player who has some serious skills. At 5-8, she’s strong and athletic. She’s used that to dominate the Central District and Region 5B during her four years at the school.
“People don’t think she’s fast, and then she gets by them,” Wallace said. “She’s always going above and beyond, every day. She’s staying after practices to practice her own skills or to help teammates.”
That field hockey-crazed bunch, along with senior Lindsey Shank and freshman Hope Cree, have made it their personal business to play as much field hockey as possible, and they brought Wallace along for the ride.
“These girls have run me all over the state of Virginia,” Wallace explained. “Eight of the girls won an indoor championship, beating James River, Midlothian, Maggie Walker and other top programs. They played all winter long, playing in tournaments, playing against other travel teams, and even played in a spring league,” she continued. “This group of girls really loves this sport.”
That type of dedication to field hockey is more common at Cosby and James River, or schools north of the river like Deep Run or Douglas Freeman. It’s never been quite like that in Matoaca – until now.
“It’s been a crazy experience. It’s not an easy thing,” Louthan said. “We play for each other, and we play for our school. We have to give 100 percent.”
Their level of confidence seemed to change during the core group’s sophomore year. Wallace convinced the girls that they needed to go “outside of the box” and play some tougher opponents. That season, they defeated Douglas Freeman 2-1 in overtime.
“That’s when the girls decided that they could play with elite teams and become an elite team,” Wallace said. “That really gave them that confidence.”
That has driven them to the point where they played Frank Cox on Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the state tournament. The result was not available at press time. However, there’s little doubt that the coach, community, family members and student body are proud of what’s become an outstanding group of field hockey players.
Editor’s note: While this story was published before the game, Matoaca lost 3-0 to Frank Cox on Tuesday, November 12.