For the two days leading up to last night's county showdown with North Carroll, ninth-ranked Liberty worked on virtually nothing but defense.
Coach Courtney Vaughn led her team through non-stop drills covering everything from one-on-ones to denying the pass to pressure defense. As the visiting Panthers will attest, practice apparently made perfect.
In a game pitting the county's two best teams, the Lions (4-0 overall, 2-0 county) dominated from start to finish, outshooting North Carroll, 21-12, en route to an easier-than-expected 10-2 victory.
North Carroll (3-1, 1-1), which had scored in double digits in each of its three previous games, notched one goal in the first 45 minutes as the Lions built a nine-goal lead. Panthers leading scorer Kellyn Hentz, who entered the night with 22 goals in three games, was held scoreless, denied time and again by Liberty defender Jen Berarducci.
"We worked on our defense, and the whole team really stepped it up," said Berarducci.
Said North Carroll coach Denean Koontz: "Their defense just completely shut down our offense. You're not going to win a ballgame if you only get a handful of good shots."
Vaughn said the game was by far her team's best defensive effort this season. To her, the extra practice made a noticeable difference.
"We worked on the fundamentals and the techniques," said Vaughn. "Over the break, I went to some college games and talked to coaches to try to pick up on what they were doing. [Defense] was a problem for us earlier, but we got the whole team to buy into it. Today they were just all over the ball."
When the Panthers did get off a rare shot on goal, it was usually stopped by goalie Gina Cinquegrani (six saves). The senior came up big several times in the first half, stopping a backhand effort by Hentz in the first eight minutes, then going high and to her left to thwart Hentz's free position effort near halftime.
Said Cinquegrani: "I just went in there expecting to play as hard as I could, and whatever happened happened."
Offensively, freshman Meagan Voight led the way for Liberty with four goals, and teammates Trish Young and Jessica Roguski added two each. The Lions used their superior quickness and passing skills to consistently create scoring opportunities, winning draws, charging toward the goal, inducing fouls and taking advantage of free positions.
"I think their speed and transition in the midfield hurt us tonight," said Koontz. "They're quick, their fast and they've got some good players."
The Lions will need every one of those players tomorrow when they play host to a six-team round-robin tournament. After facing Centennial at 10: 30 a.m., they will undoubtedly meet their toughest opponent so far in No. 3 Bryn Mawr at 4: 30 p.m.
Vaughn said that after last night's performance, her team appears to be ready.
"I think tonight was a good test for us," she said. "North Carroll is a good team with solid scorers, and for us to be able to shut them down that's incredible."