You’ve heard the adage: Defense wins championships.
Look no further than the Severna Park girls soccer team for proof.
The Falcons (14-1) posted yet another shutout — their 13th of the season — this time blanking the formidable South River Seahawks over 100 minutes to defeat the Seahawks on penalties, 0-0 (4-3) and win the county championship on October 23 at Chesapeake High School.
The Falcons avenged their only loss of the season — they fell to South River 3-1 on September 17 — and won the county championship for the first time since 2011, when they program claimed the in-season county championship before beating Reservoir 1-0 in the District V championship (a one-off county championship game was not played that season).
This time, the Falcons took down their rival to win the 2018 county plaque.
“I think these types of games are a gut check,” said Falcon coach Brian Morgan. “They’re going to battle and we’re going to battle, so it’s just kind of, see where you are on that stage. Our compete level was there tonight, and it has been all year. I know there’s another level we can get to. It’s our goal to get better every game and play as many games as we can.”
Having given up goals this season only to South River and Chesapeake (the Falcons beat the Cougars 2-1 on October 9; every other game has been a shutout win), Severna Park entered the county title game with confidence, and a strong defensive performance was needed against South River (12-1-2), which entered the game undefeated, riding a 10-game win streak and averaging four goals per game, having not been held scoreless since a 0-0 tie in their first game of the year back on August 31.
Severna Park delivered. The back line of Chase Campbell, Kiersten Crowley, Emily Knight and Lena McLaughlin and holding midfielder Madeline Altman smothered South River’s corps of scoring wings and forwards, turning defense into offense throughout the night. Kailyn McCulloch, Lauren Campbell, Toni Fiocco-Mizer, Chloe Nagel, Joi Fleming, Rachel Spilker, Sam Cremmins and Bella Espinoza battled for control in the midfield, hampering South River’s normally potent attack.
Severna Park managed seven shots on goal — none closer than a first-half free kick by Chase Campbell that clanged the crossbar from 20 yards away — and forced South River goalie Julia Cobb into repeated action.
Falcon goalkeeper Katie Byrd had only three shots come her way, and she saved them all, keeping a special save in her back pocket in case of a penalty shootout.
One hundred minutes wasn’t enough to decide a winner, and the teams went to penalties.
Altman sank her penalty to give the Falcons a 1-0 start, and Byrd stepped up to face South River’s Elizabeth Gleeson, who scored two goals back on September 17 in that 3-1 win for the Seahawks.
Byrd sized up Gleeson’s shot and dived right to punch it away with two hands.
“I was just going through my mind that I had to save it,” said Byrd. “We practice penalties a lot. It was just second nature, good coaching and faith in my teammates.”
The momentum carried, as McCulloch, Chase Campbell and Fiocco-Mizer all buried their shots for Severna Park. South River missed its fifth attempt, and the Falcons converged on Byrd in a team hug between the box and midfield, penalty shootout winners and freshly minted county champions.
“The whole group. Everybody stood out in their own way,” said Morgan. “The players who took [the penalties] wanted to take them, and they did an outstanding job with that. It’s not an easy thing to do. They wanted to take it, and whatever happens, we’ve got their back. It worked out tonight, and Katie made a save.”
With wins over both Broadneck and South River in the same season for the first time in years, the Falcons have confidence entering the 4A East playoffs.
“We’ve been working toward the bigger goal, and so every game, we try to raise our level. It was really awesome to get this milestone and beat a really good team, because South River is really awesome,” said Byrd, who added she was “honored to play” with great coaches and great teammates.
“It definitely gives us confidence and a boost,” she said, “and hopefully we just keep getting better every game, toward the bigger goal.”