Mount Airy Red and the Freedom Thunder started the march toward postseason championships on the right foot Saturday with wins in their opening Carroll County Girls Soccer League playoff games.
Mount Airy, the regular-season winner in the under-14 division, edged Westminster, 1-0.
Freedom, first during the regular season in the under-12 bracket,breezed past Linganore of Frederick County, 10-0.
Mount Airy went7-1 in the regular season and carried a five-game winning streak into Saturday's tiff.
But Red coach Rick Harmer was concerned about aWestminster team that has given his squad fits this year despite its2-6 record.
"They match up great with us," Harmer said. "They're a well-coached team. Most of their losses were by one goal."
One of those defeats was a 2-1 verdict against Mount Airy.
And Westminster's only serious lapse Saturday came midway through the first half when it failed to clear a ball from its own end.
Mount Airy's Amy Willard capitalized by stealing the ball and scoring the game's only goal.
The rest of the game was a defensive struggle with fullbacksCarrie Tamburo, Laura Fortenbaugh and Rebecca Weinschel, along with keeper Becky States, holding Westminster at bay.
Harmer said the return of 10 players from last year and their maturing has helped his squad improve.
He says that while solid team play is needed to winthe playoffs, that might not be enough in his tightly contested division.
"Any one of four teams could beat the others. A break here or a bounce there is all it will take," he said.
Freedom needed neither breaks nor bounces Saturday.
Brooke Maynard and Heather Stoetzer each scored two goals, and Brigit Becker, Allison Pohlit, JoAnna Remmel, Ashley Fortenberry, Jodie Baier and Stephanie Wilson added one apiece as the Thunder emphatically lived up to its nickname.
TheEldersburg-based team fired 20 other shots the beleaguered Linganoredefense turned back.
Millie Schaefer, who co-coaches the team with her husband Rick, said hard work in practice has given the Thunder a strong offense.
"We constantly reinforce the team part of the game," she said. "The team is what gets the ball up the field."
Schaefer also takes pride in a defense that has yielded only five goals all year and that had to save only two shots Saturday.
Experience also helps, and Schaefer says her team's spring experience and tournament play gives it an advantage over opponents, who "scatter to the fall winds" when the season's over, as she puts it.
The pictureis not so bright for Carroll's teams in the Mountain Valley FootballLeague.
The only local teams with a shot at the MVL championshipswere eliminated in semifinal playoff games this past weekend.
Damascus blasted the Mount Airy pony team, 31-0, Saturday evening at Damascus High in Montgomery County and Walkersville measured the Mount Airy junior varsity team, 28-12, Sunday in Mount Airy.
The destruction of the Mount Airy pony squad might have been foreseen.
The 4-3-2 Bulldogs were visiting the 9-0 regular-season Valley division champs.
But the 8-0-1 Mount Airy JV team lost to the same 6-3 Walkersville team it had defeated, 12-6, earlier in the season.
The loss was no mystery to Bulldog defensive coordinator Bill Thompson.
"We were flat," he said. "We just didn't play at all. We knew what they were running, we just couldn't stop it.
Running primarily up the middle, Walkersville ground out a 21-0 lead before Darren Snyder and Shawn O'Neill scored fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the score more respectable.
But Damascus, also 8-0-1 during the regular season, was upset, and both of those regular-season top dogs will be watching when the MVL super bowl is played Sunday at Frederick High School.
Damascus will meet Thomas Johnson in the pony game at 1 p.m., Walkersville and Frederick play in the JV game at 2:30, and Damascus plays Poolesville in the varsity finale at 4.