Nervous is how St. Vincent Pallotti senior defender Jazzmine Chandler described the moment. Even a little scared.
She didn't feel the jittery flash before the two Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship games she has played in, or any of the many times a top-notch forward was trying to race past her.
So what had Chandler frazzled?
The day after tryouts during her freshman year, the new team was assembled and each player was asked to stand up and say what she could improve on for the coming season. Second up was Chandler.
"I didn't really want to say much because I was so intimidated by the upperclassmen and playing with such great talent," she said. "I remember saying how I wanted to be able to work hard and give all I have and especially work on my touches. That's pretty much all I said. I was too nervous to say too much."
Chandler is now the polished leader of a team coming off its first league championship. She is one of a number of gifted seniors whose turn it is to step up, set the example from what they have learned from past captains and keep their teams in line for similar success.
At Archbishop Spalding, it's senior forward Erica Page's responsibility to help the team maintain its lofty status after Metro Player of the Year Christine Nairn and All-Metro goalie Karen Blocker moved on to college. River Hill, which has won two straight state titles, will lean on returning All-Metro players Brittany Yancey (currently sidelined after coming off knee surgery) and Amy Song to remain in contention after graduating standouts Erika Theisen and Erica Suter in consecutive seasons. John Carroll senior Brittany Dashiell is prepared for the challenge of bringing together a largely new cast to keep the Patriots formidable.
So what makes a strong team leader?
"First and foremost, you need someone who is going to lead by example," Spalding coach Bob Dieterle said. "Obviously, actions speak louder than words, so their actions will show the team where they stand as far as their excitement for the game and how they want to drive the team forward to reach its greatest potential."
Pallotti first found success behind a standout 2006 senior class. The Panthers reached their first championship game that year but lost a one-goal game to Spalding. While many believed that was supposed to be their year, the Panthers came back last season and recorded three 1-0 playoff victories to capture an improbable crown. Chandler learned some valuable lessons from last year's captains, Randall Marshall and Amanda Carta.
"What I learned the most from them is just never giving up," Chandler said. "Randall had a knee injury during the season and the doctor said she probably wouldn't be able to play the rest of her high school career. But she came back and pulled through. I think that's a big part of being a good leader. Even when it does hurt, pushing through it."
The recipe that has produced six state titles at River Hill is a simple one: The team always comes before the individual. As players get older, they climb up the pecking order, absorbing all they can from the players ahead of them so that they're ready when it's their turn to lead.
"Team chemistry is really important, and we don't want to fail because of an issue with that," said Song, one of five River Hill seniors. "As a senior, you definitely want to step up and help the younger players out. You have to stand out and be someone they can look up to."
What Dashiell saw in previous captains at John Carroll was hard-working players who were smart, confident, trustworthy and able to communicate. With a good chunk of last year's starting lineup lost to graduation, it's her time to demonstrate those qualities.
"In years past, I would be the one that just followed and listened to what the upperclassmen had to say," she said. "This year, I have to communicate a lot more and make sure everyone understands and is ready to play. I'm not used to being the oldest one, so it's been fun being the one to bring everyone together."