BECKLEY — A close match in the Class AAA state tournament was nothing the Cabell Midland boys soccer team hadn’t already seen on the weekend.
A tough game against George Washington? The Knights had already played two of those this season.
Yet after two close losses to the Patriots, the Knights weren’t able to solve them in the third. Two goals from Zak Abdul-Jalil gave GW a 2-0 win over Midland in the state tournament finals at the Cline Sports Complex. It was George Washington’s third state title in the last four seasons.
Still, Midland coach Brian McNeel said he was extremely proud of his team, which was making its first state finals appearance in program history.
“I’ve always seen this team to have the potential to come this far,” McNeel said. “And it’s this group of players that has been able to lead us this year. I’m extremely proud for what they did for Cabell Midland.”
The first of Abdul-Jalil’s two goals came at the 2:01 mark of the match. E.J. Davis saw the ball bouncing on the field and saw Abdul-Jalil with an opening between Midland’s center back and left back. He fed it to Abdul-Jalil, who buried it in the bottom left corner of the net.
“I knew he was faster than any defender they had,” Davis said. “I just put it in front of him a little bit and he did the rest.”
Abdul-Jalil said the goal wouldn’t have been possible without the feed from Davis.
“E.J. just played me a beautiful pass,” Abdul-Jalil said. “All I had to do was just run after it and get in the box.”
Despite allowing a quick goal, the Knights (14-5-2) weren’t stunned — they’re used to close games with the Patriots. GW swept the two games they played in the regular season, but both were one-goal margins. And on Friday, Midland went scoreless with University through two overtimes in the state semifinals before winning on penalty kicks.
“We’ve been behind before,” McNeel said, “and we’ve always found a way to come back. Unfortunately, we were a step behind today, but in the end we still worked together.”
GW got a huge boost from its defense. Any time the Knights found even the slightest opening and a chance to score, a Patriot (23-2) defender was sprinting in to disrupt the opportunity.
“They’re a very athletic team,” Knights senior Omar Baryun said. “A through ball and the defender comes in, you just have to put yourself between the defender and the ball and dribble it. But if they get in front, you really can’t do much.”
Saturday’s game wasn’t just a major step for Cabell Midland’s program. No Cabell County public school had reached a boys soccer state title game until the Knights lined up against the Patriots. That, Baryun said, is an accomplishment.
“Coming in my freshman year, it was tough,” Baryun said. “We’ve been working really hard every year, going out there and playing our hearts out. Coming into the state tournament this year, to be a part of that work to come here has been amazing.”
Class AA-A girls
For three straight years, Charleston Catholic had no luck in the Class AA-A championship game.
On Saturday, the Irish finally made some of its own.
After chipping away at a stingy Oak Glen (18-3-2) back line, Catholic (22-1) finally caught a couple of breaks and then blitzed the Bears, pulling away for a 5-1 win and a state championship at Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex.
The title was the first for Catholic since 2016.
“It feels good,” Catholic coach Amy Mullen said. “I knew that as long as we were patient it would start turning for us.”
Bella Cinco, Lindsay Carr, Annie Cimino and Ashley Green scored for the Irish, who also benefited from an own goal.