After Lafayette was eliminated by Jamestown in the Group 4A Conference 18 girls soccer semifinals on Wednesday, Rams senior Troy Mitchell hugged coach Kellie Ernst and said, "Thank you for being the best coach ever."
Seniors with four years of varsity experience at Lafayette had five coaches in four seasons including a midseason switch in 2016. The Rams needed some consistency and seemed to have found that in Ernst (formerly Jenkins), who coached the team in 2012, and was a standout player for both Lafayette and William and Mary.
"I think starting out the season, nobody really knew what to expect," said Lafayette senior goalkeeper Megan Roberts, who started each of her four seasons. "We came off a really rough season last year, so we were excited to have new coaches and they really helped us to grow into the team that we are. It's a shame that we weren't able to advance further, but they're definitely going to make it next year."
Half of Lafayette's six seniors were starters, which was enough to give outgoing Roberts that measure of optimism after the Rams were eliminated 1-0 by Jamestown.
Lafayette (10-3) lost twice to Jamestown this season, once to First Colonial and enjoyed a 10-game unbeaten streak that helped the Rams finish second in the Bay Rivers District.
Lafayette's regular-season showing was only good enough for the fourth seed in the conference playoffs, by virtue of the Virginia High School League points system, leaving the district's top two teams facing each other in the semifinals for the right to meet Smithfield in the championship. Between Jamestown and Lafayette, only one team could advance to regional play.
"I think the two best teams in the conference were on the field tonight and it's a shame that those two aren't going to represent Conference 18 in regionals," Ernst said. "But one team had to win and one team had to lose and unfortunately, we drew the short end."
Lafayette made a push to tie it in the final minutes against Jamestown with a dangerous free kick from Hannah Potter, but Jamestown escaped unscathed.
Potter, a junior Kentucky recruit, finished with 20 goals on the year including a five-spot on Denbigh in the conference quarterfinals.
Taylor Gubler and Kirstie Peterson stood out in the midfield this season in front of a back line that included Illiana Tua and Maya Canaday, and was led by Alaina McKnight. Ernst said McKnight was the MVP of that unit and the glue that held the Rams' back line together.
Ernst added that the Rams are as close of a team as she has been around and the conference seeding put a damper on the team's morale entering postseason play. Smithfield, which Lafayette beat in the regular season, will advance with Jamestown into the next round.
"We always gave our all regardless of what the stats were," Roberts said, "and we made sure we had a really positive attitude."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.