C. Milton Wright goalie Allison Kuchar got off to a strong start this season, shutting out two opponents and allowing just one goal in another game. But it wasn't until the Mustangs played Catholic that Kuchar faced her first real test.
She gave up two goals in the first 20 minutes.
But Kuchar settled down and blanked Catholic after that, finishing with 13 saves as No. 5 C.M. Wright rallied for a 3-2 victory.
It's not lost on Kuchar that she is replacing four-year starter Katie Kolb, who played a big role in C.M. Wright's winning last year's Class 4A state title. Kuchar knew coming in that she'd be in the spotlight.
"After they won states last year, I was nervous going into this season," she said. "I knew how Katie had a big contribution to them winning states. It just made me work harder in the offseason and the preseason."
Kolb had six shutouts last year and 28 in her career. She inspired the team's defense with her aggressive play. Kuchar was the starting junior varsity goalie for two years but worked with Kolb on a regular basis.
Kuchar wasn't on the varsity roster but was on the bench last season when Kolb and the Mustangs stunned Whitman, 1-0, in the state title game at UMBC. Stepping in to start for a defending state champion increased the pressure on Kuchar.
But it wasn't new to her. She came through under pressure last spring when she sparked a two-run rally in the seventh inning that gave the Mustangs a come-from-behind, 4-3 victory over Chesapeake of Anne Arundel County in the Class 4A softball state title game. Kuchar singled and scored the winning run.
C.M. Wright coach Paul Austin said Kuchar's experience on the softball team helped prepare her for this season's challenge.
"She's had the opportunity to play at that level, and we've seen her handle pressure situations," Austin said. "It gives us a lot of confidence. We've seen it in the other sports, and we know she's got that type of character about her."
Austin said Kuchar needs to be a leader this season because the Mustangs have a young defense. Sophomores Alexa Carlevaro and Molly Stryker, freshmen Allie Borgis and Taylor Kuzma, and junior Mallory Vogel are working with Kuchar in the back. The unit has fared well so far.
Kuchar said she learned a lot from Kolb, including the importance of being aggressive.
"She told me just to go for it," Kuchar said. "She knew I was going to be coming in, and she's always helped and given me tips. She said she knew I would be fine and that she knew I could do it."
Kuchar also needed to convince her teammates, especially those returning from last year's championship team. But allowing just three goals in her first five games is making the Mustangs believe.
"I think [that] moving up from the JV is a different level of play, and I think she's doing just fine," senior midfielder Kelly Scheler said. "As the season continues, she's going to keep getting better and better."
John Carroll coach Gary Lynch's team meets C.M. Wright on Oct. 13, but he's already seen Kuchar play. Lynch said Kuchar's athletic ability is a big plus in helping her replace Kolb.
"I thought she was a very good player last year, and there's no doubt that she can excel this year at a higher level," Lynch said. "I think it's a challenge, but I think that when you have the athleticism she has ... you [can] overcome your challenges."
Kuchar has played softball for eight years and returns as a starting guard on the basketball team. She has only played goalie since eighth grade. Her first coach tried to keep things simple for Kuchar, who first filled in for an injured teammate, by telling her simply to "stop the ball."
Kuchar then worked with Kolb every day in practice instead of going with the JV team. All of that work is helping Kuchar settle in as the Mustangs' starting goalie. It's a big reason Kuchar kept her composure against Catholic and helped C.M. Wright improve to 5-0 this season.
"I always love having things come down to me at the very end," Kuchar said. "I just kind of took it the same way as softball, but you need to have the same mentality. If you make a mistake in softball, you have to redeem yourself. But you've got to be more focused as a goalie because it can be a make-or-break [situation]."