Owls take on defending champion Wootton tomorrow

12-2-1 Westminster aims at school's first state final

Class 4A girls soccer

High Schools

November 12, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Don't talk to Westminster about pressure.

Try taking on powerhouse Severna Park in a penalty-kick shootout in a regional semifinal last week. Then face a Chesapeake squad that was 9-4 going into the regional final last Tuesday.

Finally, meet defending state champion Wootton from Rockville at 5 p.m. tomorrow at Severna Park in a Class 4A state girls soccer semifinal -- the Owls' first since 1996.

Don't ask Westminster senior goalkeeper Amy Ridgely if the thought of playing in the state semifinals is stressful.

"We don't look at pressure," she said. "We know what we want and what it takes to get there. We know what to do."

What the 10th-ranked Owls will try to do is earn the school's first berth in the state championship game. To do that, Westminster (12-2-1) must beat a 14-3 Wootton squad that edged Severna Park for last fall's state title.

Many Westminster players and coach Bryan Shumaker said they know little about the Patriots.

And that's not such a bad thing, said senior forward Tricia Teal, explaining: "When it seems that we know a lot about a team, we kind of psych ourselves out. We just want to get out there and play our game."

The Owls' strategy has changed since Shumaker picked up the reins in 1997. Uncomfortable with the team's run-and-kick attitude, Shumaker asked his defense to stand closer to the midfield line and his forwards to move the ball up-field with short passes.

"Our focus is to try [to] put pressure on the other team through our defense," said Shumaker, who owns a 25-19-1 record in three years of coaching. "We like to try [to] move the defense to a point where they can intercept the ball and set up some players one-on-one on the outside."

The results were mixed last season as Westminster upset perennial power McDonogh, 3-2, but entered the regional playoffs with a 5-9 record.

After defeating Annapolis in the quarterfinals, the Owls faced Severna Park, which won the regional semifinal with a 2-1 overtime victory.

The loss was devastating, said senior forward Amy Vagnoni. "The whole bus ride home, we were crying," she said. "We were not ready for our season to be over."

At the beginning of this season, the team established four goals: winning county and regional titles, scoring 40 goals, and helping Ridgely make fewer than 10 saves a game.

Westminster won the county crown with a 2-0 victory over North Carroll on Oct. 14, and Ridgely -- who has made 94 saves while allowing only 17 goals -- has been forced to make 10 saves or more only twice -- indicative of improved team defense.

Senior midfielder Mandy Komar leads the team with 12 goals and nine assists, and Teal is second with 10 goals and three assists, but Shumaker acknowledged that it's unlikely the Owls will reach their 40-goal objective.

Perhaps the team's biggest achievement was capturing the regional championship, which would not have happened without getting by -- once again -- Severna Park. Ranked by several national publications, the then-No. 2 Falcons were expected to win the region and maybe the Class 4A title.

But Westminster dashed those hopes by outscoring Severna Park 7-5 in the penalty-kick shootout. Some players called that victory the season's high point.

"It was the greatest feeling," Teal said. "Even 10 minutes after the game, I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't believe what had happened."

For his part, Shumaker said he wasn't shocked by the outcome.

"We were 6-and-9 going against them last year, and with a better record this year, I knew we would compete," he said. "I believed it could happen."

Westminster has lost to two state finalists in the past two years -- Thomas Johnson in 1997 and Severna Park last year. Vagnoni said this could be the Year of the Owls.

"I really do think we'll win it," she said. "It'll be the best thing ever for the school and the soccer team."

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