New style for Yellow Jackets as OP seeks first win
© Prince William Times
The 13-year skipper of the Yellow Jackets is coming off a 13-6 campaign that featured a run to the Group 6A state semifinal round and a runner-up showing in the Group 6A North Region tournament.
Winners of the Conference 8 regular season and tournament championships, the 2014 team was rich with senior leadership, particularly all-state attacker Corinne Wessels, now suiting up for Northwestern University.
As this year's edition entered the spring break with losses in its first five games, their coach still lauded their effort.
"The girls are really working hard, very anxious to learn. They're a fun group and after five games I've seen them get better," Thomas said. "We kind of have to reinvent ourselves a little bit this year, with the loss of such a dominant player."
Thomas had a victory of a sort to boast about, pointing out proudly that her squad held powerful Chantilly to just three second-half goals when the sides met March 28 in Annandale High School's Atomic Blast Tournament.
Such is an example of the style Thomas is attempting to instill, one centered around fundamental footwork on defense and a possession-oriented philosophy on offense.
"I'm stressing that we have to play under control," said Thomas. "There is no go-to girl, so everybody has to rely on everybody."
The veteran coach noted that the officiating body of Virginia High School League girls lacrosse is emphasizing stick infractions during play, making proper defensive fundamentals more necessary.
Offensively, Thomas is looking for scoring threats to step up after Wessels shouldered the load last year. She has plenty of talent to turn to, including some speedy midfielders and an advanced freshman attacker.
That newcomer is Rebecca Pullen, and she's already cracked the Yellow Jackets' starting lineup.
"She has a great stick and a nice shot. She's played a lot already, been to a lot of camps, and it shows. She'll help us out a lot," Thomas said.
Olivia Owens and Olivia Rinaldi comprise the stable senior duo on the Jackets' main attacking line. But it is in the middle of the field where Osbourn Park really gets in gear.
Speed is the strength of junior Gabby Sullivan and seniors Shannon Forshay, Elizabeth Sozio and Sara Zadei, the latter primarily a basketball player whose athleticism translates smoothly to both ends of the lacrosse field, Thomas said.
"Elizabeth brings tenacity, just a forceful player," said the coach. "Shannon is incredibly athletic, covers a lot of territory. She's going to be more of a defensive center."
The defensive side of the field is patrolled by sophomore goalie Grace VonVital, a returning starter upon whom Thomas depends for vocal leadership.
VonVital repeatedly put up double-digit save totals so far this young season.
"She's back really strong for us," Thomas said.
In front of VonVital is a plethora of senior defenders: Adrian Kimos, Morgan Kinney, Riley Huber, Sarah Valentine and Anika Tolentino, though Huber is versatile enough to jump into midfield.
Those players are demonstrating to Thomas that they have the ability to compete with powerhouse programs one county over.
"This past weekend I really saw some growth," said Thomas, thinking of the Annandale tournament against Chantilly, Robinson and other stiff competition.
Then the head coach gave a knowing laugh.
"I think we'll be okay," she said.
Osbourn Park returns to action after spring break on April 9 with a home game against Forest Park, set for 7 p.m.
The Yellow Jackets then head to Hylton on April 13 and Gar-Field on April 23 before Conference 8 play begins April 30 in Manassas against Patriot.
Stonewall Jackson hosts OP on May 4 before senior night at Osbourn Park on May 7 against defending Group 6A North Region champion Battlefield.
All of those games start at 7 p.m. The last game of the regular season on May 11 at Osbourn is set for 6 p.m. The conference playoffs begin May 14.
-Dan Roem contributed to this report.