Playing in the same county as reigning 4A state champion Broadneck, perennial contenders South River and Arundel and traditional powerhouse Severna Park, it can be easy for girls soccer programs to get overlooked in the crowd.
Take Chesapeake, for example. The Cougars have made it to consecutive 3A East region finals without much fanfare.
This year’s Cougars—deep, talented and experienced—are set on stealing the spotlight.
“We’re winning regionals this season,” said senior captain Summer Smith. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Old Mill was the first county school to get a crack at Chesapeake, and the Cougars started their end-goal pursuit well with a 1-0 win over the Patriots on September 13. Chesapeake got a highlight-reel free-kick goal from senior Haley Downin in the first half and a strong top-to-bottom effort to begin the county slate with a win. Check out video of Downin's goal:
Video courtesy of Jaime Hurst
Downin and fellow forward Brooke Hurst were a constant threat for the Chesapeake offense, while the Cougars’ deep midfield corps will be the envy of teams throughout Anne Arundel County this season. Smith and junior Leia Black orchestrated constant attacks through the middle of the field and out wide to teammates Ashley Chew and Megan Byle. Karlie Stracke anchored the center of the back line along with Jessica Calvert, Amy Dolan and Kiersten Blanchard, and sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Cutler had fives saves in keeping a clean sheet. Emily Barrett was a super sub in the midfield, creating chances throughout the second half, while Samantha Leo, Madisyn Diggs and freshmen Megan Miller and Ella Harris fortified the midfield.
The depth and skill of the midfield should carry Chesapeake this season.
“I thought we had a bunch of really good passing sequences in the middle and especially on the outside,” said Black. “One of our biggest strengths this season will be our outside mids getting up and us being able to play that ball. They’re really good at controlling and being able to put it back in the middle. …We feel really strong about this team this season. We work well, and we have really good chemistry.”
Head coach Kevin Keeter said the Cougars’ personnel and the always-tough regular season competing against the 4A teams should bode well as they look to break through the region and take that next step into the state tournament.
“This is probably our deepest team,” said Keeter. “I like our chances this year. Playing the 4A schools is great for us. We get to the playoffs, and we’re ready. That’s where people underestimate us.”
At Northeast, the Eagles are wink-wink self-deprecating about their 2018 squad, according to senior captain Evelyn Cronise.
“This is embarrassing for some girls on our team to admit, but our motto for this season is, ‘All heart, no talent,’” Cronise said. “As a joke. We have a lot of heart, and when we’re on the field we have a lot of will. We’ll run everybody over, we’ll do whatever we have to do to get the ball and get it in the back of the net.”
If Cronise is trying to get teams to underestimate the Eagles, score lines like the one Northeast delivered in a 4-1 beating of North County on September 13 are not going to help.
Allyson Wills scored twice for the Eagles, while Madison Hobbs and Abigail Zimmerman each scored in the victory. Cronise registered two assists as a midfielder and also two saves playing goalie in the second half, while Sydney Bell had five saves in the first half.
There is an element of truth to the “no talent” line, as many of the Eagles are two- or three-sport athletes who don’t view soccer as their primary sport, and the Eagles don’t have the same amount of club players as in previous seasons.
But none of that matters, said head coach Scott Langlois, because of all the other attributes this year’s Eagles bring to the table.
“The one thing we’re doing now is just tenacity, relentlessness. They may not be the most talented players, because soccer is not their first sport, but they’re absolutely, completely geared and ready to go,” said Langlois.
With small numbers in the program—just 35 total between varsity and JV—the team has upped its training intensity to be able to endure grueling 80-minute contests without many subs.
“We concentrated a lot on conditioning, way more than last year,” Langlois said. “Everyone’s gotta be able to go. We’ve been playing some fast-paced soccer, kicking the ball and running after it.”
Plus, the team’s lighthearted nature is the perfect complement to its attitude about all-out competing.
“They’re loud, they’re talking, they don’t take themselves too seriously, and they’re just having a good time,” said Langlois. “They’re having fun, and there’s no excuses. It’s high school, it’s not club soccer, so with the right mindset you can compete with anyone in the county.”
Cronise has one opponent in mind.
“Tell Chesapeake, we’re ready for them,” Cronise said.