To fully appreciate the value of sophomore forward Michelle Salmon to Old Mill's girls soccer team, one must look beyond her statistics.
Rather, check out those of her teammates.
"It wasn't me scoring and all that. That doesn't really matter. It was me making opportunities for everyone else," said Salmon, 15, the Anne Arundel County Sun's 1991 Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
"If I don't score, then I don't score. My objective out there is to help make my team look good. The goals will come."
They came in droves, 23 by season's end. She also had three assists while leading thecounty in scoring.
But her importance to the Patriots went beyondindividual achievement.
When opposing teams began marking her tighter as the year progressed, it freed the likes of Terri Bogle and Teri Lee, senior forwards who combined for 22 goals and 10 assists.
Bogle had five goals in the last five games, including all three in wins over Severna Park (2-1) and Chesapeake (1-0) to close the regularseason. Overall, the Patriots outscored their opponents, 61-11.
"Michelle's in a position where she doesn't have to score to help us win games," said Patriots coach Bruce Sponsler, the Anne Arundel County Sun's 1991 Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
"With a mark on her, it's not so much how she performs, it's the fact their best defensiveplayer is concentrating on one player instead of six attacking players. And that makes a big difference. When we can isolate their very best defender, that's an awful big plus for us. And that helped us wingames."
Fourteen, to be exact, against only one loss -- to Centennial, 4-0, in the 4A/3A state semifinals.
"She never really had a bad game. Every game, she did something good," said Lee, who had 10 goals and five assists. "She's a very team-oriented player. She doesn't care about herself as much as how the team does."
"She gets the offense started and gets us going," said junior sweeper Lori Lynch. "We can always look for her to be there. And she keeps our heads up, too, if we get down a little bit."
Salmon didn't mind the extra attention from opposing teams brought on by her rapid start, when she scored eight goals in the first three games, including hat tricks in wins over Queen Anne's (7-1) and South River (4-1).
"It doesn't really frustrate me. It makes me play better," she said. "I just try to run them to death. I'm in shape, and they better pray they're in shapebecause I love to run them."
She ran Franklin of Baltimore Countyinto the ground in the 4A Region II semifinals, scoring three goals in a 3-2 win.
"I got really up for that game," she said. "I'd dedicate games to my family, and that one was dedicated to my grandparents and my mom and dad, and my brother especially. I just went out there and played for them and for myself, and I went out there with the attitude that I'm going to do well."
Salmon, who left today for Dallas, Texas, and the Olympic Development Program's under-16 national camp, wasn't completely satisfied with her season.
"I'm never really satisfied. I could have 100 million goals and I won't be satisfied.I would want 100 million-and-one," she said.
"The other players learn so much from watching her play," said Sponsler, whose team endedSeverna Park's 57-game unbeaten streak. "When Michelle gets the ball, everyone's watching her. Our younger kids, and even some of our older kids, can really learn a lot from watching her composure and her poise.
"It really does amaze me that she's a 10th-grader, but that's why she's a Player of the Year and makes first-team All-Metro. She's an extraordinary young athlete. She surprises me every day."
Sponsler didn't have many surprises once the season began, saying everything went "pretty much like clockwork." And the results were a Friendship Division championship, his fourth region title and a No. 1 seeding in the states.
"Once we got our team selected, we went through a couple scrimmages and then sat down before our first game and put some people in different positions. And this is one of the first yearsthat I didn't make any wholesale changes after the first couple games. We just happened to get the right combination, and that had a lot to do with our success," he said.
That, and the work of his assistant coaches, Wayne Robinson and Tom Schiltz.
"They've been with usfor four years, and the continuity of the program also has a lot to do with our success," he said.
Sponsler did a masterful job of rotating his two goalies, senior Amy Drapalski and sophomore Jackie Bardelli, getting the best out of both. "We had what I considered two full-time goalkeepers," he said.
"I firmly believe if you can concentrate on the kids who aren't the starters and you can help them find away to contribute to the team, then you're going to have a successful team. Of course, all 24 of our players wanted to be out there at all times, and that's the way it should be. But I was very aware of trying not to isolate kids due to playing time.
"I figured the happier the kids would be, the more successful we would be. And not the happier the first 11, the happier all 24. It's difficult, but not something that's unattainable."