Attitude adjustment

With new talent and desire, Meade rolls to the school's first appearance in a county championship game tonight

soccer

October 25, 2006|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,Sun reporter

Meade senior goalie Anna Hicks isn't nearly as busy this season, and she likes it that way.

Senior forward Jenni Barbett is, though, taking full advantage of the extra time she now has with the ball at her feet.

And coach Andre Wise, in his seventh season, is much more relaxed during games these days, mostly sitting and enjoying the team's consistently fine play with plenty of voice left at game's end.

Mixing and matching strong senior leadership with a banner freshman class and more talent in between, the Meade girls soccer team has accomplished what only the players thought they could this fall - earning a spot in the county championship game.

The No. 14 Mustangs (10-1-3) will not only take a 7-0-3 county record into tonight's title game against Severna Park, set for 7 p.m. at Broadneck High, but also a mountain of pride. It's the first time they have ever appeared in the county championship game.

"We've always won a few games here and there each season, but this year, we're just winning everything," said Hicks, who has 73 saves and has allowed just eight goals this season. "At first, people were just waiting for us to lose - thinking it's going to happen eventually. But it hasn't. And now, people are like: `Wow, you guys are really good.' So we're finally getting some recognition, which has been kind of nice."

Wise, a Meade grad who played college ball at Towson University, couldn't have asked for better timing as the Mustangs quickly assembled a team that was ready to win from the start.

In Hicks, Barbett (17 goals, seven assists) and fellow senior tri-captain Tiffany Youse, the team's sweeper, he had an experienced trio that was both talented and hungry to win. The team's freshman class has two sets of twins - Hicks' sisters Libby and Becca, and Kahra and Caprice Kelty - who made an immediate impact as starters on defense, the midfield and at forward. Along with their familiarity with the older players, all four play high-level club ball to help make the smooth transition to varsity.

"This year, there's just been a different attitude," Wise said. "From the beginning, the girls came out with the attitude that we expect to win, not the attitude that we want to be able to stay in games. It's been exciting to see. I don't think many of them have been a part of something like this."

Hicks has seen a drastic change in the team's approach going into a big game. In years past, the hope was to do well and "not lose by more than this many goals," she said.

This season?

"It's just different. People are more focused and we know we have a job to do," she said.

Validation came Oct. 5 when they visited powerhouse Severna Park with a determined look that Falcons coach Gary Lam had never seen from the Mustangs before.

After Barbett scored an early goal - "All I know is there was a mess in front, the keeper was out and I got it and chipped it over her," she says - the Mustangs successfully protected the lead with everything they had.

"It was scary," Hicks said. "They just kept coming and coming, but we stopped them and stopped them. Everything they brought, we were ready for it. It was a blur, a busy game for me and it was incredible. It was more important to us to win and we were the better team that game."

After the 1-0 win, Barbett cried and then laughed; Hicks - whose biggest save came late in the first half when she turned aside Samantha Young's breakaway shot with a foot save - called former teammates to share the big news; and the bus ride home was as noisy as it ever has been.

"They got a belief that they can do it, and that's a big part of the battle," said Lam, whose Falcons are looking forward to another chance at the Mustangs in tonight's title game. "Andre really deserves a lot of credit because it's tough to really sell that to a group of kids. It's tough to get them over the hump, but once they get over it and get some momentum rolling, they're going to buy into it more."

Wise emphasized to his team that one game doesn't make a season and they obviously listened, coming back the next week to beat Broadneck and then earn a tie with Chesapeake to go 2-0-1 in the make-or-break stretch.

They are well aware there's more work to do.

"Coach always tells us to stay grounded and just because you're winning doesn't mean anything," Barbett said. "So we go out every game and don't look at any of them differently - just making sure to play our hardest." glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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