Joe Coppola saw it coming.
Even before his Severna Park Blazers under-15 boys soccer team captured the National Capital Soccer League Division I title last week, the veteran coach was basking in the glory of change.
"I've always heard how good Howard and Prince George's County soccer is, and how kids from Anne Arundel leave to go and play there," said Coppola, whose team is the first from Anne Arundel County to wear an NCSL Division I crown. "But, this year I had calls from Division I players from Howard County who wanted to come out for our team, so things are changing.
"For years the railroad was always going the other way, but maybe this is the wave of the future."
As far as the Blazers are concerned, the future is now. Last week's 3-1 win over Potomac in the final regular-season matchup raised Severna Park's record to 6-2-1 and gave the Blazers their own little place in history.
"It was a historic moment in time for soccer in Anne Arundel County," said Coppola, who last year was named Maryland State Youth Soccer Association and Region I Coach of the Year.
"Improvement has always been more important than winning to us because we know that if you improve enough, the winning will come."
The winning finally did arrive, but the road to victory had its share of potholes.
Last year, the Blazers ended up seventh in the 10-team field with a 3-5-1 mark. Before this season, Severna Park's best finish was fifth place, which spawns the question: Why all the success?
"Things just clicked and we started rolling," said midfielder Bob Habicht, who was cited by his coach as one the key additions to the squad. "The competition may have been down a little bit this season, but I think it was more of us stepping up and working together that made the difference."
The Blazers, runners-up in the Columbia Tournament and champions in the under-16 league at Myers Pavilion, outscored their NCSL opponents this season 20-9. Defenders Mike Daugard and Charles "Rossi" Ross and midfielder Keith Hare were the Blazers' tri-leaders in scoring with three goals and one assist each.
"Rossi is our secret scoring weapon coming from the back," said Coppola. "He can put the ball in the net faster than anyone on the team. Keith was a silent contributor and Mike is extremely intelligent and hard-working."
Forwards Kelley Harris and Matt Woodward and defender Bryce Poland tallied two goals apiece, with Harris emerging as the team's co-assist leader with four. Chris Cannella, a midfielder from St. Mary's, scored two goals in his first NCSL Division I season.
"Kelley is probably our most dangerous player," said Coppola.
"He is extremely dangerous and it doesn't take the opposition long to realize that. He was well-marked all season and he still produced," the coach said.
Harris downplayed his performance this season and said it was a total team effort and strong work ethic on part of the entire team that led to the Blazers' success.
"We worked real hard for it,"said Harris, a freshman at Severna Park. "We came out and practiced whenever we had a chance, and it paid off."
The Blazers' defense, which Coppola calls the "heart and soul of the team," yielded only nine goals all season -- one per game -- in a league that has become a feeder system for regional, state and national select teams.
Sweeper Scott Neuberger and stopper Chad Langville anchored Severna Park's stingy defense this season and made life a lot easier for goalies Chris Rippel (14 saves) and Brian Zaks (13).
"We call Chad the 'Ice Man' because he's as cool as a cucumber," said Coppola. "He never gets flustered and he makes his contributions very quietly. Scott is the clos
est to being a star on this team. He's a great athlete with excellent skills, balance and speed."
Midfielders Steve Burlingame (one assist), Rick Sporrer (one assist) and Mat Weibe (two assists), along with forward John Coppola (one goal, four assists), rounded out the scoring for the Blazers and shared the same determination of all 16 Blazer team members.
"This is a group of kids who love the game so much that they were willing to go out and practice without any supervision," said Coppola, referring to times when his job prevented him from making it to practice. "That describes in a nutshell what kind of kids we have here, and why these kids have met so many successes over the years."