The Wait is Over: Girls Soccer Defeats Jackson-Reed to Clinch First DCIAA Title in 13 Years
Penguins celebrating their win with fans while hoisting their trophy / Credits: Rami Noursi
The School Without Walls girls soccer team defeated Jackson-Reed in the DCIAA championship for the first time in 13 years. The Penguins emerged victorious from the late October game as Tillie Freed (‘24) scored off an assist from Simone Meltzer (‘27) in the first half. Goalkeeper Campell Tiller (‘26) had a stellar performance with centerbacks Neve O’Connell (‘26) and Charlotte Tama (‘24) locking down the backfield. They maintained their one-point lead through the second half, capitalizing on their momentum and drawing from the fans’ energy.
This upset capped off an excellent fall for the Penguins, who went 13-2-1 in the regular season. In the DCSAA postseason, which, unlike DCIAA, included private and charter schools, the girls scraped out a 3-1 quarterfinal victory against DC International before losing to Jackson-Reed 4-0 in the semifinal. Jackson-Reed went on to lose 3-0 to Georgetown Visitation in the state final.
Captains, coaches, and players alike had a sense that their DCIAA victory and standout season was a long time coming. For years, Walls has gone toe-to-toe with Jackson-Reed, coming close to a win many times. They have played each other in the DCIAA championship 13 times, each time falling to the rival Tigers — until now. DCIAA Player of the Year Kylie Emmanuel (‘25) said that beating Jackson-Reed was “bound to happen one of these years. Every time we play them, it’s a good game.”
From the onset of the season, the team energy felt different. Beyond the 11 strong starters, there was more ambition and determination on the team, especially amongst the seniors. Athletic Director Kip Smith said that captains Freed and Tama carried momentum and energy from last season to this year, explaining “they went into the season with the mindset that they could win the championship. They felt confident with the team and what they could do.”
Lilly Gore (‘24) added that the team’s sense of community this fall was stronger than in previous seasons. “This is the first year that I’ve seen it be so connected and the team just had really good chemistry between grades. The team just really deserved it this year,” Gore said.
While a lot went right for the Penguins, the season was not without challenge or change. Gabriela Encarnacion joined the team as the new head coach and made changes to the team’s formation and practices throughout the season. She could not be reached for comment.
Emmanuel noted that under Encarnacion, players had less input in practice and on the formation. She added, “[the new coach] wasn’t the most open towards us and we didn’t really form any connections with her. She was definitely more on the quiet side.”
Despite the leadership shake-up, the team found success from hard work and on- and off-field chemistry. Meltzer, who played her first season with the team this year, agreed with Gore, saying it was important that the upperclassmen were welcoming and supportive because “if the team didn’t have good chemistry, then [they] wouldn’t work well together.”
Meltzer’s dedication to the sport earned her significant playing time as a freshman. On her crucial assist, she said, “I was pretty excited and I was happy to contribute to the win.” She looks forward to future seasons with the team and is hopeful to continue recent success.
Giovanni Sandoval was head coach of the team for seven years and is now the goalie coach. He is also optimistic about next season, acknowledging that “year after year, [players] always talk about ‘oh we’re gonna lose the seniors, we’re gonna be struggling next year,’” but noting “we always come out strong again.” He hopes to start a junior varsity team soon to expand the Walls soccer program.
Gore found the championship game incredibly rewarding and a fitting way to end her high school soccer career; “the seniors felt like we left our mark with that [win]. We just worked so hard for it this entire season and the three years before this.”
While reflecting on her experience with the team, Gore said, “it’s such a special group of girls. It’s one of the reasons I’ve really felt like Walls is a home for me.”