Power of three has Cavs No. 1

Archbishop Spalding appears poised to defend its IAAM A Conference title

Varsity -- Fall Preview

Girls Soccer

August 29, 2007|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,Sun Reporter

The heavy shot that came off the foot of Archbishop Spalding senior midfielder Christine Nairn two weeks ago in practice was like so many others over her high school career: Cleanly struck, low and knuckling, and quickly headed to the back of the net.

The only difference was that in the way was the Cavaliers' senior goalie, Karen Blocker, who, also like so many other times in her career, was in the right place to turn it aside.

"Christine has a crazy shot - it's awesome," Blocker said. "You can't even hold onto it most of the time. You just have to try to punch it out, do anything. It's a rocket shot."

Nairn and Blocker, along with junior forward Erica Page, give the Cavaliers an All-Metro trio that firmly places them at No. 1 in The Sun's poll and makes them the favorite to successfully defend their Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship.

What's it going to take?

"Winning the championship last year, every team is now going to be out to get us. So we're going to have to train that much harder because they'll all be trying to meet our level," said Page, who finished with 12 goals and 13 assists to earn second-team All-Metro honors as a sophomore.

Nairn, the program's all-time leading scorer with 43 goals and 23 assists, and Blocker, who holds all the team's goalkeeping records including 40 career shutouts, want to close out their four-year careers like the seniors did last year - with a conference title.

For the Cavaliers, there is no shortage of talent and familiarity. All three players, as well as senior midfielder Chelsea Allen, play for the highly touted Freestate Shooters club team out of Bowie.

"I think it definitely shows in our play," said Nairn, an under-17 U.S. national team pool player. "Our relationships - we're all best friends - so that definitely comes out when we're playing together. We know where each other is going to make our runs, when the crosses are coming. It just works out so well."

That is, unless you're an opponent trying to stop Nairn and Page or get a ball past Blocker.

"To be a very good team, you really need at least one player to be able to go to, and that's pretty much at any level, whether it's high school, college, professional or even international play," John Carroll coach Gary Lynch said. "With Spalding, you multiply that by two and you back it up with one of the best goalkeepers I've seen. You've got a real wall there. Not only do they have two players to go to, but they also have a goalkeeper that can keep them in every game all by herself. That's just hard to handle."

Along with the cannon shot that finds its mark from 30-plus yards, Nairn also pinpoints passes to open teammates and draws constant attention from defenses.

Blocker, who went 19-0-2 with 16 shutouts last season, is not only a terrific shot blocker, but she also precisely directs a defense led by sophomore sweeper Kirstin Frank.

Page goes from one speed to the next in a flash to shake off defenders, and has a knack for finding open corners when finishing scoring chances. All three were participants in the prestigious Nike Premier 50 camp.

Spalding coach Bob Dieterle said one of the biggest values of the three standouts is that they make the rest of a quality group of players want to get that much better.

"What it does for a team is it brings varied experience, a certain level of confidence that says, `We've been there before. We've played at a very high level and have lived to tell about it,' " he said. "When you have players like that practicing with you every day and you're a good player yourself, you want to strive to play up to that level. And there are things that they can do that makes it possible for them to do things that they couldn't have done before."

Something Nairn, who will play at Penn State next year, had never done before July was score a goal for the U-17 national team. Traveling to Germany and England last month, the U.S. team came away with wins over England and Denmark in two friendlies. Nairn got the start in both games and scored the middle goal in a 3-0 win over Denmark.

"Definitely starting for my country was a dream of mine and scoring was a big accomplishment. It was exciting," she said.

Now, the goal for the three is to bring home another IAAM A Conference championship. The Cavaliers will prepare with another challenging out-of-league schedule and then get league tests from John Carroll, McDonogh and St. Vincent Pallotti among others.

Assistant coach Bob Wagner said the team's strength and endurance tests during the preseason were improved from last year's title team. Dieterle believes one of the biggest challenges will be mentally preparing for teams that have the Spalding game already marked on their calendars.

After losing the 2005 championship game to John Carroll on penalty kicks, the Cavaliers were hungry to claim the program's first title last fall. Does the hunger remain?

"Definitely," said Blocker, who is considering Pittsburgh, Liberty and Boston University. "Last year, we sent the seniors off with a championship and now we want to be sent off with a championship."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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