McDonogh seeks elusive goal

Close calls: The Eagles have fallen one goal short three years in a row in the MIAA A Conference final.

Boys Soccer

September 02, 2004|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Six McDonogh boys soccer players tasted a national championship in July for their club team - the Casa Mia Bays.

For five of them, it was a second straight national title.

But none of them has savored a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title.

The Eagles, 15-7-2 last season, have lost that championship game three straight years by one goal.

"I can't really get on them for never winning a big game, because they have won big games," said McDonogh coach Steve Nichols, who also coaches Casa Mia.

Three of those players are now seniors - Matt Beckman, Mike Marchiano and Justin Lichtfuss.

Beckman and Marchiano will play for Maryland next season, and Lichtfuss is being recruited by Virginia and Wake Forest.

"My main goal right now is to win a high school title," Beckman said. "It would really mean a lot. We have high expectations."

The Eagles last won a league championship in 2000. They lost to Calvert Hall the past two years, and to Mount St. Joseph before that.

Beckman blames injuries for McDonogh's past two failures.

Marchiano (broken foot), Lichtfuss (broken ankle, popped hamstring) and senior goalkeeper Alex Horwath (brain hematoma) all suffered injuries during the past two seasons that proved crippling to the Eagles' championship hopes.

The seniors know too well that this will be their last chance at the MIAA title.

"Our freshman year we were talking about winning four in a row," said Horwath, who has scholarship offers from St. John's and Penn State. "Now, we just want one. I'm tired of burying my head in my hands after championship games."

In December 2002, Horwath had two holes drilled in his skull to relieve bleeding on his brain caused by an early-season concussion. The bleeding made him temporarily blind and caused him to miss the championship game his sophomore year.

Now fully recovered, he is optimistic about his team's chances.

"One of the things that's going to make a big difference is that our role players are going to be much better this season," he said, naming Nick Gault, Jeremy Sieverts, Dave Reed, Collins Cary and Tyler Kirkwood.

The Eagles also should have a healthy Marchiano, who played only five games last season because of a broken foot and had to leave the championship game with an injury.

"I came back in that game and tried to gut it out, but I was hurting," said the left-footed Marchiano, who hasn't played since last March after a bone graft operation that left a screw holding together the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot.

"Mike is one of the best leaders I've ever seen," said Horwath. "He plays harder than anybody I know. He makes our practices intense."

Also returning at midfield is another Casa Mia player, junior Jordan Lewis.

McDonogh beefed up its offense with Georgetown Prep transfer Xavier Rock, a one-year member of the Casa Mia team who scored three goals during nationals and 15 goals for Georgetown Prep last fall.

"He's fast," said Horwath of the 5-foot-4, 140-pound junior.

The Eagles, however, lost two key starters from last season, midfielder Eric Shadoff to Mount Hebron and defender Cam Watkins to Magruder, and two more would-be starters, midfielder David Munson and forward Danny Schwartz.

Shadoff started for three years.

"Losing Shadoff hurts," said Horwath, whose club team is the Pikesville Shakedowns. "He was a big part of our team, and not having him limits our flexibility."

Without Shadoff, the Eagles likely are forced to keep Marchiano and another Casa Mia stalwart, junior Jon Ports, entrenched at center midfield rather than switching them off occasionally to other roles they are capable of playing.

With nine starters returning, most of them of Division I caliber, Nichols knows the pressure is on McDonogh to win a title.

"He [Nichols] thrives on pressure," said Horwath. "And we like being the team with the bull's-eye on our backs. We have the best seven starters of any team, and just need to fill out the last four spots. If we can score one goal, with Beckman and Lichtfuss in the back, our defense is capable of shutting out anyone in the league."

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