Jackie Rupp spent the last four years walking past an aluminum sign in the Oakton girls’ locker room that reads “Play Like A Champion.”
Now, after three years of near misses, Rupp and the Cougars girls’ lacrosse team finally have a championship to call their own.
Oakton capped a dominant run through the postseason with a 12-7 win over Langley in Saturday’s state final at Westfield, giving the Cougars their fourth state title and first since 2008.
“Today, when we hit that sign on the way out of the locker room, it felt different. And we came out determined to play like a state champion,” Rupp said. “It’s just complete fulfillment.”
Just as she did the semifinal, Rupp came out firing. Facing all-American goalie Erin Long, she dropped her release point and fired a pair of low shots past Long’s feet to open the scoring.
When Long adjusted and began protecting the bottom half of the goal midway through the first half, the Cougars (18-2) aimed high. After Kelly Martins and Olivia Sisson brought Langley within 3-2, Oakton’s Tori Anderson, Claire Stikeleather and Rupp scored in the final eight minutes to extend the Cougars’ lead to 6-3 at the break.
Rupp (four goals), Alex Revel and Stikeleather extended Oakton’s lead to 9-4 early in the second half but Hayley Soutter answered with two tallies in 18 seconds to pull the Saxons (17-4) within striking distance.
With Langley threatening to creep closer, senior goalie Emily George stoned Margo Swomley’s shot just outside the crease. Senior All-Met Carly Palmucci scored both of her goals twice on Oakton’s ensuing 3-0 run and Rupp corralled a pair of groundballs to seal the win.
The Cougars fell to Madison in the region and state finals a year ago, and considered this season their redemption tour.
Coach Jean Counts “always says, ‘End on a win,’ and this is the first year we’ve been able to do that,” said Palmucci, who also had two assists. “We worked so hard to get back here, and this is the perfect way to go out.”
Said Counts, who also led Oakton to state titles in 2006, ’07 and ’08: “I’m just glad that these seniors can leave this program knowing they did everything they could and it was enough. This time, it was enough.”