Spalding girls meet challenges, seek to have fun in process

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

October 02, 2007|By MILTON KENT

The Archbishop Spalding girls soccer team members affectionately call assistant coach Bob Wagner "Bob-O," but Nostradamus might have been more appropriate Friday.

In the wake of last Tuesday's 1-1 double-overtime tie against St. Vincent Pallotti, the Spalding coaching staff gave the players the next day off with a practice Thursday leading into Friday's game against Severn. Wagner, who coached the team in the absence of head coach Bob Dieterle who was away tending to family matters, knew precisely what would happen Friday and said as much to the referee.

"Anytime you give them a day off, they come back brain-dead," Wagner said. "I told the ref before the game, `I'm not going to say a word to the team for the first 20 minutes of the game. Not one word. I'm going to let them iron it out and do what they need to do.' And I didn't [say anything]."

As if Wagner had a crystal ball on the bench next to him, the top-ranked Cavaliers looked listless initially, falling behind 2-0 on two goals from Severn sophomore Jordy Bathras in a 90-second span 10 minutes into the match.

"It kind of seemed unreal, like we had never been down by two goals. It was rough," senior goalie Karen Blocker said.

Coming from behind certainly wasn't a sensation Spalding was familiar with, having trailed for a total of only 10 minutes all season. The Cavaliers' defense didn't allow a goal for the first 769 minutes of the season, covering their first nine games.

But, as in the Pallotti match, when the Cavaliers fell behind, Spalding rallied behind senior midfielder Christine Nairn. Nairn, a two-time first-team All-Metro performer, righted the Cavaliers, scoring four straight goals as Spalding connected on six unanswered goals to win, 6-2.

Nairn, who has committed to playing at Penn State, scored three times in three minutes, nearly immediately answering Bathras' goals. The go-ahead score came on a brilliant shot from the left side from about 20 yards out and was the kind of thing seniors do when their teams are in trouble.

"We play for each other each and every game," Nairn said afterward. "I think when they scored those two goals, it just motivated me and the rest of the girls to get that extra step and push and take the win."

Midfielders, by nature, are orchestrators, and few things happen on the field for Spalding without Nairn being in the middle of them. The eyes are drawn to her as she deftly directs traffic and moves easily from offense to defense and back.

Said Wagner: "She's the best player out there, so we want to make her the focal point. She makes all the other kids better players. She knows when to send the ball for them to run on to [and] do something good with it. She's got great field vision and she can put a pass on a dime. She can shoot like a rocket, so, yeah, she's our focal point. She's a joy to watch."

The Cavaliers (9-0-1), who host Seton Keough tonight, have a talented group of underclassmen beyond the eight seniors on the roster. Junior forward Erica Page has a solid combination of skill and speed, while freshman Maggie Morrison, who scored the final goal against Severn on a dazzling end-to-end run with a shot from the right side that blazed through the goalie's legs, shows promise.

But beyond what she does on the field, Nairn is the cohesive force that bonds together what could be a special team. Besides advancing its unbeaten string to 49 matches, dating over two seasons, Spalding received a reminder via Severn's initial challenge that the Cavaliers will get every opponent's best effort.

And while the tie to Pallotti knocked the Cavaliers out of the national No. 1 ranking given them by studentsports.com, the high school arm of rivals.com - the Cavaliers are No. 8 in the latest poll - being the best in the country isn't their top goal. That's because Nairn, who now has 20 goals, has them focused on something larger than winning games.

"We want to have fun," Nairn said. "It's our last year all playing together, No. 1 for us. But No. 2 is definitely coming away with a championship. But mostly [our goal is] to have fun, because this is our last year that we're ever going to play for Spalding and play for these girls. We'll try to make memories and hopefully make friendships that will last a lifetime."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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