Third-year Severna Park girls soccer head coach Brian Morgan spoke these words about his team all the way back on August 28:
“We should be able to play with anyone,” Morgan said. “It’s up to us. This is our year.”
On Monday night in the Class 4A East region final, the Falcons proved him right.
In perhaps their most impressive defensive masterpiece in a season full of them, the host Falcons shut out the defending state-champion Broadneck Bruins over 100 minutes of steady rain to win on penalties, 0-0 (4-2), and claim the region title.
Severna Park Goalkeeper Katie Byrd made eight saves in regulation and a critical save in the penalty shootout, and teammates Madeline Altman, Kailyn McCulloch, Chase Campbell and Bella Espinoza sank their penalties to lead the Falcons into the state tournament for the first time since 2011.
“It’s a big step,” said Morgan. “Every year we’ve been getting closer. Obviously we would have liked to have done it in regulation. Both teams had chances. Both teams had a resolve defensively that was pretty remarkable. I can’t say enough about my group and their defensive effort, and it’s really been stellar all year. That’s really the backbone of our team. It’s a big step for the program. I’m really proud of the group, and they really fight for each other.”
To be the last team standing in the cutthroat 4A East, Severna Park (17-1) employed the formula it has all season by posting its 16th shutout in 18 games, a staggering statistic in a region loaded with talented teams.
Paramount among those teams was Broadneck (11-4-2), a team that had scored 44 goals in 18 games coming into the region final, was fresh off an overtime shootout win over South River and has been Severna Park’s nemesis over the past three seasons, including in a 2-1 win in last year’s region final that put Broadneck on course to a state championship. Dealing with the aggressive scoring of Broadneck’s Makenna Dean (14 goals, three assists), passing of Mia Camm (nine assists), playmaking of Lela Clark (six goals, eight assists) and raw speed of freshman Eva Mowery (eight goals, nine assists) is a major handful for any defense, but the Severna Park back line delivered a textbook lesson in containment. Kiersten Crowley’s one-on-one stops complemented the header prowess of Lena McLaughlin, who soared repeatedly for head clearances. Fullbacks Emily Knight and Chase Campbell worked tirelessly with Byrd, Crowley, McLaughlin and McCulloch, a midfielder, to pass calmly out of the back and bottle up every Broadneck advance.
Broadneck’s talent may have been able to produce a moment of brilliance or a winning flash of skill, but they were not going to exploit a Severna Park breakdown in communication—the Falcons simply don’t allow for it, and everyone is called into duty.
“The defense, all four of the backs, and then me connecting with it, we communicate well, we cover for each other,” said McCulloch, a senior captain. “When one steps, we cover. Our midfield getting back and helping and then sometimes even our forwards getting back and helping, it’s a whole team effort that keeps us glued together. They’re a hard team to defend, especially Makenna, so being able to shut them down is a huge one for us, especially losing to them two years in a row in regionals.”
It was the theme over and over, particularly in the second half, when Broadneck pressed further and further up the field only to be stifled by the Severna Park defense.
“We passed well, we kept them pinned in for large periods of time,” said Broadneck coach John Camm. “They’re organized. It’s hard to get past them. Hats off to them. We just couldn’t find an easy chance at goal.”
By the time overtime began, a shootout seemed inevitable, lest Severna Park broke free for a counter-attack score. Even when the Bruins engineered three corner kicks in the extra frames, the Falcons covered, as Byrd navigated a crowd to hawk a ball on the six-yard line and McLaughlin twice rose up for head clearances.
In the shootout, Broadneck’s first shot was over the bar, and Altman calmly scored her attempt to wrest the momentum over to the Falcons. Clark sank her shot for Broadneck, and McCulloch made hers to keep the Falcons ahead 2-1.
Up stepped Byrd, who sized up her Broadneck opponent, dived left and got two hands on the shot to punch it away safely.
“We do this a lot, so I just trust my instincts and coaching I’ve had,” said Byrd. “On the save I just tried to react instead of anticipate, and it ended up working out…It was awesome to do this for the seniors. This is what they’ve been trying to do all four years. And then also for each other, it’s a really great chance to work together and get this.”
The save elicited a roar from the vibrant student and fan section that attended the game, and Campbell followed suit by sinking her attempt to give Severna Park a 3-1 lead.
After Mowery made her shot to pull Broadneck to within 3-2, Espinoza stepped to the spot. In Severna Park’s penalty-shooutout win over South River in the county championship, Espinoza missed her attempt.
Not this time.
Espinoza’s attempt was pure, and the Falcons were through to the state tournament.
McCulloch, a senior captain, said the ups and downs over the years fueled the fire of the current senior class.
“Since my freshman year this has been our goal,” she said. “All we talk about, we’ve looked up to the seniors, and now we’re the seniors. We finally won, and it’s a good feeling.”
Broadneck has been impossibly successful in the past four years, with two state titles and two narrow losses in the region final. Dean’s 14 goals pushed her to a school-record 51 in her career. Mia Camm’s 10 assists tied her with injured senior captain Talia Gabarra with 28 for their careers, also a school record.
Coach Camm, who has coached many of Severna Park’s players on youth and club teams, spoke proudly of his Broadneck squad, which navigated injuries to produce yet another stellar season.
“We’re really happy with the progress they’ve made,” he said. “Overall, we talked about giving up too many goals early on, to reshuffling some players, to just playing with a grit and intensity we’re used to playing with. …Hopefully [Severna Park] do well in the tournament. Everybody progressed. The bar was set high for everybody. I don’t have any regrets. I am happy for those kids, and I’m happy for our group. Our kids really came on.”
But the night, and the season, belonged and belongs to Severna Park. The Falcons will play Saturday in the state semifinals at Henry A. Wise High School, time and opponent TBA.
Sam Cremmins, a senior midfielder and captain for the Falcons, said Severna Park will be dangerous moving forward; the Falcons are playing free.
“Our entire four years on this team we’ve wanted to get past regionals, and we haven’t been able to, and now we finally have,” she said. “It’s like a weight off our shoulders.”