ELDERSBURG - Mike Roy and his players want to savor this year's Carroll County Boys' Soccer League championship, but without thinking too much about last year's.
Saturday afternoon, the Roy-coached Freedom Strikers blanked the South Carroll Top Guns, 3-0, at Oklahoma Park to run their record to 10-0 and nail down the league's under-12 regular-season championship.
But as they await the post-season tournament, which starts for them on Nov. 3, occasional thoughts of 1989 may slip into their minds.
Competing in the league's under-10 division last year, the Strikers ripped through the regular season with a 10-1 record and won two post-season tournament playoff games. But they lost a heart-breaking championship game, 2-1, to Deer Park on a penalty kick in the final minutes.
Roy, though, said he doubts the ghosts of last year will disturb his 10-and 11-year-olds too much this year, even though Halloween will be fresh in their minds.
"They won the regular season and beat every team in the league last year. They lost (the finale) on a bad play. It can happen in any game," Roy said.
But "it" hasn't happened too much since then.
The Strikers are 27-4 since that ill-fated finale, playing both indoor and outdoor soccer.
Overall, they are 39-6 since September 1989.
Roy credits this to a somewhat predictable combination of continuity, good coaching and practice.
All but four of the Strikers have been with the team since last September, giving it a cohesion often lacking in rec teams, whose rosters constantly change as players move on.
Even with their longevity, however, most of the Strikers are only 10 and can return to the under-12 division next year, a prospect that undoubtedly disturbs the sleep of many of the other coaches who will have to contend with them again.
Roy, in his second year as head coach, praises his assistants, Jay Haddaway and Al Poklemba, the latter a soccer and baseball coach at McDonogh School in Baltimore County.
Poklemba, who runs summer soccer camps at the school, has been instrumental in teaching skills to the youngsters, Roy said.
The two-per-week evening practices emphasize the fundamentals.
As a result of this emphasis, and his players' constant work on the basics, "We have the skills. That's the difference between us and a lot of other teams," Roy said.
The youngsters are still honing these skills in a league and tournament schedule that Roy said may reach 60 games this year.
Saturday's was not one of the prettier ones; in fact Roy termed it "ugly."
After jumping ahead, 2-0, in the opening minutes, Freedom didn't score again until late in the contest.
But though it never pulled safely away, Freedom dominated throughout, keeping the ball in the Top Guns' end of the field most of the time.
Only some excellent play by Top Guns' goal keeper Chris Bowman kept the score at 3-0.
Roy said he used the game, against an opponent which has won only twice this year, to give playing time to his substitutes and also to rotate players to different positions.
"It's important that they learn different positions. It will help them later," he explained.
J.R. Haddaway scored for Freedom in the opening moments with assists from Mike Heck and Brian Levin. A few minutes later, Chris James scored from out in front when South Carroll was unable to clear the ball.
Thereafter, fullbacks Dustin Henneman and Doug McCurdy and halfbacks Chris Poklemba, Brock Shaffer and James formed what amounted to a picket fence across midfield, rarely allowing the opposition through.
South Carroll got only a few weak shots on goal in the game.
That defense, Roy said, has been a team strong point this year, adding that it has surrendered only 15 goals in its 21 tournament and league games this fall.
James scored the team's final goal late in the game.
Roy now looks toward the playoffs, saying Linganore and Baltimore Soccer Club are the most likely to challenge Freedom for the under-12 title.
To date, his biggest wins have come against those two opponents.
Freedom blanked Linganore in a 3-0 showdown two weekends ago, when both teams were 8-0.
Earlier, it edged Baltimore Soccer Club, 2-1, becoming the only Carroll team to beat any of the club's three entrants in the boys' league this year.
While his team has beaten both of these opponents, Roy will go only so far in his predictions.
"We'll make it to the championship game," Roy said.
But with those ghosts of 1989 prehaps still flickering in and out of his thoughts, that was all he would say.
Top Guns coach Jim Harris was not overly distressed at the loss.
He said his inexperienced team will improve.
"We'll be there next year," said Harris.