Two years ago, Oakland Mills and Centennial swept the state girls soccer championships for Howard County. Tonight, they will try to repeat history.
First, No. 10-ranked Oakland Mills meets No. 2 Fallston for the Class 1A-2A title at 5:30 at North County High School. Then at 8, No. 3 Centennial faces No. 6 Perry Hall in the Class 3A-4A final.
Of the two, Oakland Mills (12-4-1) has the tougher assignment, because the Scorpions played Fallston (16-0) in mid-September and lost, 3-0. That was the only game the Scorpions lost outside of the Howard County league.
"Our defense wasn't marking up well," said Scorpions striker Ginny Dye. "They were making runs all over the place, and we were just sort of letting them go. But we've improved a lot as the season went on."
Since early on, the Scorpions have bolstered their defense enough to record eight shutouts. Sweeper Michelle Osterberger, stopper Lauren McHargue, backs Brie Warner, Stephanie Romich and Leslie Miller and keeper Nyiesha Ford have not allowed a goal in the playoffs.
Dye scored her sixth goal of the playoffs in Saturday's 1-0 state semifinal win over Hereford, the team that upset defending state champ Loch Raven. Although Dye leads the team with 17 goals and 12 assists, the Scorpions have other offensive threats, including second-leading scorer Antoinette Bwayla, who just returned from an ankle injury.
"We've made a lot of improvement everywhere," said Scorpions coach Steve Matters. "I'm sure Fallston has improved, too, but if we play the way I think we can, it could come down to one goal."
The Scorpions do have something Fallston does not -- a handful of players who have been on a championship team.
"We know what that feeling is to be there and be the state champions," said Dye, who along with McHargue, Terri Hayman and Melissa York played on the 1992 team. "We try to describe it to the younger players and explain what this game really means. Hopefully, it'll sink in and hopefully, we'll be able to win again."
Some of the Eagles (17-0) also know what it feels like to win the state title. Centennial won in 1991 and 1992 before falling in the state semifinals a year ago.
"From the beginning of the year, the kids wanted to be here in this game," said Eagles coach Dave Greenberg. "They really felt like they didn't do what they should have done last year and not just not getting to the state game but in general. They wanted to redeem themselves."
Against Perry Hall (12-2), the Eagles meet a squad riding a tremendous wave of momentum. Not only did the Gators bounce No. 4 and defending state champ Dulaney, 4-1, in the regional playoffs, but they also have beaten No. 15 C. Milton Wright and No. 7 Severna Park en route to the state final.
The Gators have shut out 10 teams, including Severna Park, 1-0, in Saturday's state semifinal. They have a dominating center halfback in senior Jessa Phoebus (nine goals, 14 assists) and a three-striker line that has scored 34 goals.
On the other hand, the Eagles have looked impressive through the playoffs as well, outscoring the opposition, 12-1. They advanced to the title game with a 4-0 win over No. 13 Old Mill Saturday.
The Howard County champions also have a formidable offense in strikers Michelle Clare (21 goals, eight assists) and Jen Coulson (11 goals, seven assists) as well as a strong center halfback, Lauren Molinaro (11 goals, five assists).
Defensively, sweeper Tania Riismandel, stoppers Shara Boonshaft or Sarah Bartholomew, backs Gina DiNisio and Tiffany Cronin and keeper Rima Sidhu have posted 10 shutouts, including four in the regional and state playoffs.