The Wilde Lake boys soccer season began with uncertainty. It ended definitively.
When the third-ranked Wildecats won their sixth statechampionship Saturday at Old Mill High School, downing Clear Spring of Washington County in the Class 1A final, 4-1, they left no doubt about their superiority.
In September, when the season began, the Wildecats knew they had two elite offensive players in Hamisi Amani-Dove and Matt Nesbitt. And those two put on quite a show Saturday, each scoring two goals. Nesbitt also had an assist.
But the defensive lineup was filled with unproven players early in September, and an opening-day 5-3 loss to Archbishop Curley didn't build much confidence.
"We just hadn't putthe defense together in time," Wildecats coach Five days after the Curley loss, however, the Wildecats shut out Mt. St. Joseph -- the first of five straight shutouts. That streak, which included a 1-0 victory over highly regarded Good Counsel of Washington, proved Wilde Lakewould be a team to be reckoned with.
Wilde Lake finished with a 13-2-1 record, losing only to Curley and Glenelg and tying Centennial.The defense, led by sweeper Cory Sautter, fullback Mike Aballo and keeper Todd Bradford, posted seven shutouts.
Wilde Lake quickly gained the upper hand in Saturday's game against unbeaten Clear Spring, scoring two goals in the opening 3 minutes, 16 seconds.
"I was surprised we scored so quickly," coach Nesbitt said.
All-American forward Amani-Dove scored at 1:59 off a pass from junior midfielder Kwesi Ewol-Robotham. Amani-Dove turned sharply on the pass and ripped a left-footed shot to the upper net inside the far post.
At 3:16, Nesbitt, the coach's son, scored from the 18-yard line on a breakaway that began at the 40-yard line. It left Clear Spring in disarray.
"They had never trailed before (during) this season and didn't know what to do about it," senior Wildecat fullback Diego Valverde said.
The stunned Blazers responded aggressively to the deep hole they'd fallen into. Clear Spring hustled and played a physical style of soccer that made up for in intensity what it lacked in skill.
At 12:15, Mark Shives sneaked behind Wilde Lake's back line, took a long kick from midfield and looped a shot over goalie Todd Bradford.
"I just misjudged it," said Bradford.
"I think the wind played a factor on that goal," Amani-Dove said in defense of Bradford.
Wilde Lake regained its composure and scored a third goal with
five minutes leftin the first half.
Nesbitt, an All-State selection, scored off a header from 10 yards out after receiving an excellent pass from senior midfielder Mike Curtis.
Wilde Lake missed on four other strong scoring opportunities, including a 25-yarder by Amani-Dove that bounced off the intersection of the bar and the post.
The 3-1 lead didn't prevent the 'Cats from a halftime chewing out by Nesbitt. "We weren't playing the kind of passing game we were supposed to," Nesbitt said.
Amani-Dove scored the final goal in the 28th minute of the sec
ond half off a free kick from 30 yards. Nesbitt tapped it to him, and Amani-Dove sent a picture-perfect kick into the upper left section of the net.
"I felt like I could do what I wanted to do without much trouble and so did Matt," Amani-Dove said. "Things just went ourway."
Good fortune followed Wilde Lake most of the season. Bradford and Sautter showed up as transfers in August. Aballo, a junior whomade Honorable Mention All-State, developed into an excellent defensive player. Senior fullback Valverde and midfielder Curtis also played well all year.
"A lot of people stepped up and met the demands,"Amani-Dove said. "It was a good season, and I'm happy for the schoolto win this title."
Amani-Dove, a senior who will travel to Dallas during Thanksgiving week to play with the eastern regional under-18team, scored 18 goals and had 10 assists this season.
During thatweek, players for a national under-20 team will be chosen. Amani-Dove expects to have a good chance to make the national team.
Nesbitt, who has 16 goals and 15 assists, plays on the same club team as Amani-Dove, the 15 assists, plays on the same club team as Amani-Dove, the Bethesda Mustangs.
They were both busy with state team and clubteam practices Sunday -- the day after winning the state championship. Both are being heavily recruited and are two of the county's top college prospects in recent years.
Wilde Lake took a tough road to the state title, winning the regional final, 2-1, in overtime againstBrunswick, then taking the state semifinal with a 2-1 shootout victory over Fallston.
"I hoped there couldn't be another team left to play that was as good as those two teams," Nesbitt said.
The Wildecats graduate six starters, but return five starters, along with several others who saw plenty of playing time this season.
"The problem is going to be how to replace the 32 goals we're losing by graduating Matt and Hamisi," Nesbitt said. "They were the show this year."