Falling short, standing tall

For three teams, tough losses in the playoffs provide incentive

August 30, 2006|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,sun reporter

The River Hill girls soccer team had done just about everything correct that night, aside from scoring the all-important goal that was needed to reach the state championship game.

When senior striker Erika Theisen thought back to last season's heartbreaking 1-0 loss to eventual champion Tuscarora in the Class 3A semifinals -- the deciding goal coming with nine seconds left in double overtime -- she was reminded of the scoring chances she had along with numerous others for her teammates.

"It seemed we had it in our hand and then that last second, it was like ... `What just happened?' " said Theisen, an All-Metro selection who has committed to Maryland. "I went home and I was so mad, I didn't talk to anybody for a good while. I still hate thinking about it."

Almost a year later, a fresh season brings new hope for Theisen and the Hawks. They plan to use last season's experience as a valuable lesson learned.

Other teams are following suit.

Archbishop Spalding, the area's top-ranked team most of last season, coolly maneuvered through the tough Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference with a clean slate all the way to the title game before losing to defending champion John Carroll on penalty kicks. It was the Cavaliers' first title-game appearance.

At Kenwood, the Bluebirds appeared primed for a strong playoff run with a home game against C. Milton Wright in the region semifinals the first big test. A second-half lapse in the back resulted in the game's only goal as the visiting Mustangs came away with a 1-0 win on their way to the Class 4A state title. The Bluebirds were left wondering when it would be their turn.

All three teams have most of their standout players back with an opportunity to make amends. For the teams' coaches, the task is trying to turn last year's negative into a positive this year.

River Hill second-year coach Brian Song didn't waste any time. The day after the loss, he got his group together to take down the nets and to hear a positive message.

"I just said, `Look, it was a great season and I know we didn't want it to end like this. But now we know what we have to do. It's not up to me -- I can push you, but it's up to all of you to be on the same page, come with the same work ethic and the same effort from tryouts to when it's time to peak when October comes around,' " he said.

In the first two weeks of the preseason, Song has seen a more focused team that will be led by Theisen, fellow senior Sara Tankard and junior Erica Suter.

Spalding also believes it has some unfinished business. Coach Bob Dieterle thought his Cavaliers were confident and comfortable going into their first IAAM championship game, but playing in front of a bigger crowd and the accomplishment of actually getting to the final may have played into the setback. Champion John Carroll, which tied the game, 1-1, late in the second half before winning on penalty kicks, had the advantage of having been there before.

"As a coach, you just try to build on that experience," said Dieterle, who returns seven starters, including All-Metro standouts Christine Nairn up front and Karen Blocker in goal. "This year, we say, `That was last year and that's soccer, and that's what can happen in some games.' This year, we obviously want to get back to the dance and we want the result to be different. I think they know it's going to be a tough sled, but they're confident."

Said senior captain Ali Jones: "I think we'll have an advantage if we can get there again because now we know how it feels -- the nerve level won't be as high. The entire team is extremely motivated and we're ready to go. The motivation is to win our last game."

Four years ago, the Kenwood program emerged with the help of a talented group of freshmen led by All-Metro standouts Christine Sadowski and Ashley Singer.

Kenwood coach Derek Woodward said he'll be leaning on those two and some other veteran players to step up and get the team over the hump. He'll also look to pick the ideal time during the season to bring out video of the team's regional semifinal loss to C. Milton Wright.

"All season we had always talked about how important the details were in big games," he said. "Like lining up on the right side of the wall on a direct kick, or making sure the near post is covered on a corner kick, or having the needed communication between your goalie and center back when the ball is there. That was a prime example of a detail and that's how we lost that game."

Sadowski, a captain and the team's leader at midfield, already got the message.

"I think about that game a lot in practice -- it keeps me working hard and staying focused. I think we've all learned and we're going to be ready," she said.

A cue could be taken from IAAM champ John Carroll. At the end of the 2003 season, the junior-laden Patriots saw their season end in dramatic fashion when Notre Dame Prep scored with four seconds left in double overtime of the title game to secure a 5-4 win.

The Patriots haven't lost their final game of the season since, coming away with back-to-back crowns.

"Our motto the next year was: `four seconds,' " John Carroll coach Gary Lynch said. "I told them they only had to train to be able to play those four seconds. We already had everything down to those last four seconds. They bought into that."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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