South River hoping last fall's experience pay a title dividend Talent-laden River Hill is formidable opponent

Girls soccer

November 14, 1997|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The South River Seahawks, defending Class 2A-3A state champs, know all about the big day.

For 100 minutes in last season's final, they battled Liberty to a 0-0 tie on Dundalk Community College's long, wide field.

"The whole ordeal is really something," said Seahawks coach Will Pharr. "You're treated like kings for a day, and the big-game situation is nothing you see in the season. For 14- and 15-year BTC old kids, it can be overwhelming, but we should feel comfortable."

That's one advantage the No. 8-ranked Seahawks (14-2) will take into tomorrow afternoon's state championship game, as they try to defend their crown against No. 10 River Hill, a young, talented Howard County team that has only been around for two years. Game time at Dundalk is noon.

A year ago, few expected the Seahawks to be playing on the season's last day, but they were riding an emotional high for teammate Cortney Belt, who died the previous summer in a car accident. This time, it's no surprise to see them once again getting the royal treatment at Catonsville.

"Last year was an emotional roller-coaster. We were playing for a fallen teammate. We talked about this year being for them and to take what's rightfully yours," Pharr said.

The Seahawks understand it won't be easy. River Hill (15-2) comes into the final at 15-2 and loaded with talent.

"It's going to be tough. I know they have a ton who play club ball and are a very talented bunch of girls. They have good size and speed and are quite skilled all over the field. There's no one place to attack them from."

So the Seahawks, 2-0 winner over Middletown in the state semifinal, won't change anything from what brought them their 14 wins to this point. The offense mostly runs through junior midfielder Nichoal Zamarripa (14 goals, 12 assists) with Nancy Tucker (13 goals, five assists) a strong finisher up top.

The defense could be the team's biggest strength with Nichoal's older sister, Lorie, a senior stopper and junior Eryn Belt at sweeper. Senior Erin Graham showed she was a big-game keeper in last year's final with 13 saves against Liberty.

"She's picked up right where she left off last season. The experience factor, having been there and knowing what to expect, will help. This is her senior year, and she doesn't want to go out on a losing note," Pharr said.

In last year's final, the challenge for Graham and the Seahawks defense was to shut down Liberty senior standout Shanna Ziegenfuss. Against River Hill, the Seahawk defense will need to defend against a more balanced attack.

Caitlin Bair (13 goals, eight assists) and Kathy Gaertner (nine goals, 15 assists) control the midfield with Natalie Cox (10 goals, three assists) the big threat up top. They are three of the five seniors on the Hawks 25-player roster.

"We're a young team, and it's been a roller-coaster ride this season, but I've been real impressed," said River Hill coach Cynthia Odell, who guided Oakland Mills to four state championships before moving on to River Hill.

"When they make up their minds to do something, they go out and do it. There's not anything more you can teach them at this point, so I'm just trying every little angle I can think of to get them up and ready for this. South River is basically the defending state champ, and they've proved to everyone they are good. We're going to have to be on top of our game."

The Hawks play on Howard County's widest field, so they should feel right at home tomorrow. They like to knock the ball around with a controlled, short-passing game, using the entire field. While the Seahawks may have found Dundalk's big field a bit of a disadvantage last year, Pharr said it won't be a problem this year with his team now much smoother in transition.

"The high school fields we've played on are like postage stamps compared to it. There's so much room to attack and defend. We just need to make sure to mark up when we don't have the ball and try to get numbers up the field when we do," he said. "We're athletic, physically fit, and healthy, so we should benefit."

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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