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    A binge watch helps Paul VI lacrosse; Wise track honors its late teammate

    Rich Hayden estimates he and the rest of Paul VI’s coaching staff have watched the Panthers’ first matchup with St. John’s, a four-goal loss in late March, 30 to 40 times.

    The frequent re-watches were partially motivated by their knowledge that the teams would likely meet again in the postseason.

    The repeated viewings produced adjustments. Paul VI changed its draw control strategy from the game and reconfigured its practice field to adjust for the Cadets’ smaller playing field.

    Both moves paid off in a 15-14 overtime win in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinal Friday that sent the Panthers to the title game for the first time since 2005. The adjusted practice field helped Hayden’s squad be ready for a fast-moving game that remained close throughout.

    Paul VI won the draw control to start overtime before killing 20 seconds to release a player from a card. St. John’s, which already had four yellow cards, was now a player down.

    The Panthers capitalized on their advantage as senior Francesca Cristofari bounced home a shot for the winner.

    “They confirmed that they left everything on the field,” Hayden said.

    His biggest takeaway from the game was how many players were saying “one more” — as in one more game to go in the WCAC. Paul VI hasn’t won the conference tournament title since 2003 and will get its chance to do so against Good Counsel at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at the University of Maryland.

    Every day for the past two months, Emmanuel Murray has worn a royal blue wristband.

    It honors Cayliy Haygood, a close friend and fellow Wise runner who died in a car accident in March.

    The wristband — emblazoned with “LONG LIVE CAYLIY” with doves on the front and “RIH” (rest in heaven) with the school logo (a puma paw) on the back — reminds Murray that Haygood is with him in spirit.

    The two met in English class junior year and became fast friends.

    Haygood’s favorite race was the 400 meters, so the team dedicated the event in her honor at the Henry Wise Invitational on Saturday.

    And on a day that celebrated Haygood, one of the team’s senior captains, Wise runners took the top three spots in the 400, with Sarah Ingham finishing first to win the Cayliy Haygood Memorial Award.

    Each of the top three runners also set a personal record in the event.

    “The girls definitely wanted to go out there and win it,” Coach Gideon Tinch said.

    “A lot of our teammates were crying because it was a hard day,” Murray said. “Everybody was close to KK [Cayliy’s nickname]. She was one of the main people that everybody interacted with. So I think losing her really affected the whole team.”

    Good teams can find the silver lining in any obstacle. For Madison girls’ soccer, the challenge at the beginning of this season was straightforward: they didn’t have all of their players.

    The girls’ basketball season was running long thanks to another state championship run, and club soccer continued to wreak havoc on the personal calendars of several players. Warhawks Coach Devon Sanborn said her team wasn’t close to full strength for the first several weeks of the spring.

    “That probably ended up benefiting us in the long run,” she says now, her team sitting at 9-1-1 with a week remaining before the postseason.

    The early roster trouble allowed Sanborn to test her team’s depth, and she came away with the belief this group was both talented and balanced.

    “Madison has always competed,” the coach said. “But the unexpected part has been how deep our bench is this year. That’s been a really nice surprise.”

    As players slowly returned, lineups and roles were sorted. For Sanborn, a 2-0 win against rival Oakton in the third match of the season was the moment she realized this team could be special.

    “It’s such a good rivalry and Oakton always has so much talent, that the girls always come into that game ready to play,” Sanborn said. “And at that point we were just starting to reach a point where everyone was available to play and we could put people in their normal spots. So that one definitely provided a spark.”

    Now, the time for finding itself is over and the team is preparing for the imminent arrival of playoff soccer.

    “This point in the regular season is about fine tuning everything for the postseason,” Sanborn said. “Everything we do in this last month is preparing for a time when it will be do or die and the talent level of our opponents will keep improving.”

    Last season Loudoun Valley leaned on its top two hitters — senior Natalie Elias and sophomore Maddy Greene — en route to a state quarterfinal appearance. The duo accounted for a majority of the team’s runs throughout the 2022 season and quickly emerged as the two go-to scorers for the Vikings.

    This season, Coach Mike Elias has a wider range of offensive weapons to work with. Four Vikings have posted double-digit RBI, Elias said, while nine have hit home runs as the Purcellville program prepares to enter postseason play.

    “Last year we were a little more top-heavy,” Elias said. “This year, we’re a lot more balanced and getting production from more of our roster this year than we did last year.”

    That parity has its drawbacks, Elias said. While multiple players have shown potential at the plate throughout the season, the team is still in need of a consistent spark to spur the team’s scoring.

    “On one hand, it’s good that I have more players capable of making an impact,” Elias said. “As a coach, it just leads for a little more discomfort when you’re not sure who it’s going to be every night.”

    Still, Elias thinks the Vikings (10-5) are “capable of competing with anybody” as they push for a state title. Loudoun Valley kept it close with powerhouse Tuscarora for the first half of its late-April regional championship rematch before the Huskies blew open the game in the fourth inning — still a positive sign for a Loudoun Valley team hungry to get over the hump and into the state championship hunt.

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