Calvert Hall's Stephen Kelly (No. 24) hugs teammate John… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
Moments after a four-goal, four-assist performance Tuesday helped send his team back to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship, Calvert Hall's All-Metro senior attackman Patrick Kelly wasn't ready to talk about Friday's big game just yet.
For Kelly and the Cardinals, it's been first things first this season.
"Tomorrow's a practice day, we got to prepare for who we have in the championship and that's all I'm looking at right now — the next day," he said.
After a heartbreaking loss to Gilman in last year's title game and then getting tagged the country's No. 1 team by a couple national publications at the start of this season, it could have been easy for the No. 1 Cardinals to want to anxiously jump ahead.
Instead, they have patiently stayed on course with the day-by-day approach Kelly referred to and — with last year's title game experience and another season to further strengthen their bond — they're poised to make good on their season-long goal.
Calvert Hall (15-2) faces No. 2 Loyola (16-3) in a bid to capture the program's sixth MIAA championship. The Dons, who scored the first 10 goals in their 13-7 semifinal win over defending champ Gilman, also boast a talented, veteran team looking to make its own mark.
Friday's game time is 8 p.m. at Towson University'sJohnny UnitasStadium. Calvert Hall defeated Loyola, 11-6, in the teams' regular season-meeting April 20.
"It's definitely been tough going day to day, because a lot of our focus has been the main goal of winning the championship, but that day to day work is what leads up to that opportunity," All-Metro junior midfielder Stephen Kelly said. "I think the way we've taken each practice and each game and built off them has helped us get better as a team."
In one of the country's most talented leagues, the Cardinals are stacked. Coach Bryan Kelly chooses not to keep individual stats during the season to maintain the team-first approach. If he did, he would keep busy with his calculator.
The Cardinals have had a number of players step up with big offensive games to keep opposing defenses wary. Patrick Kelly is the leader on attack with seniors Ryan Brown, Kelton Black, Carter Brown among the other regular finishers. With Stephen Kelly constantly getting the ball with dominating work on faceoffs and senior defenseman Evan Connell giving opposing attacks a hard time, the Cardinals have the field covered with a surplus of talent.
But coach Kelly said it takes more than just talent to reach the top in the MIAA.
"If you look at this league, every team is talented and every team is good," he said. "I think what makes us special is that they all like each other, they all care about each other and they all genuinely want the best for each other. So we're blessed in that way and it's attributed to the kids caring about each other."
With that being the case, the journey for the Cardinals has been as special as the potential end reward.
"These guys are going to be my best friends forever," Connell said. "Every day we come out here at practice and we'll be doing a normal drill and have fun with it, run around and work hard. It's my last high school season, so it's fun to be out here and I'm trying to take it all in."