In the final 30 seconds of Saturday’s Class 3A girls soccer state championship game, the enormity of the moment finally started to set in.
Severna Park defender Ryn Feemster booted the ball aimlessly up the field — anywhere away from the Falcons’ goal would do. Goalkeeper Lily Diedrich glanced toward the giant Loyola University scoreboard behind her goal, silently willing the final few off the clock. The team’s reserves bobbed up and down on the bench. The stadium announcer counted down from 10, and when he hit zero, the whistle went, and bedlam ensued as the Falcons raced to mob Diedrich just outside her penalty area.
Behind two first-half goals and yet another defensive clean sheet, Severna Park blanked Mount Hebron 2-0 to claim the program’s seventh state championship, and the first in 20 years.
The Falcons capped off a perfect season in perfect fashion, and they made good on all their goals following the 2022 season, where they were defeated in the region final by Broadneck.
“After last season’s disappointment, we really had a mindset shift in the group. We had always talked about winning the last game, but we hadn’t even got there,” said Severna Park coach Rick Stimpson. “We didn’t set out for perfection, but we just always wanted to win the next game.”
The Falcons nearly put their stamp on the game in the first minute. Freshman Izzy Burleson was denied three times in succession from close range, the first two by the keeper and the third being cleared off the line by a defender. It was a statement of intent, but it would take more than half an hour before the deadlock was finally broken.
With both teams still feeling each other out and perhaps a little anxious, there were precious few serious scoring opportunities. But the matter was decided with two goals in 64 seconds, the first coming from senior mainstay Sara Kreis. Kreis ran onto a flicked header from Burleson just outside the penalty area, and with nobody within 10 yards of her, she took a smooth first touch and hit a dipping shot just over the keeper and just under the crossbar.
“Just a great team goal. It came all the way from the defense, through the midfield, and I’m just the one who scores them,” said Kreis, who had a hand in four of Severna Park’s six goals in the state tournament. “I love to score goals for my team.”
Barely a minute later, Ava Scott found herself through on goal when an attempted clearance skipped right into her path. The sophomore applied a composed finish past the onrushing goalkeeper to double Severna Park’s advantage, then clutched at her face and then the Severna Park crest on her jersey in a mixture of pride and disbelief. Scott and the Falcons were suddenly in command.
There were still 44 minutes to play, but it felt like the game was already decided. The Falcons conceded just three times all season, and never more than once in a game; they weren’t about to let a two-goal lead slip with the championship trophy so close to their grasp.
“We remembered going behind against South River (in the region championship game), and we did not want to feel that again,” said Feemster. “That’s why it was so important for us to get a goal, because that lets us settle down.”
The closest Mount Hebron came to getting on the score sheet came with 15 minutes left in the contest, as a whipped cross from the right side was headed down from eight yards toward the lower-left corner of the goal.
But Diedrich, despite facing only long shots for most of the game, was ready for the challenge. She dove down to her right and smothered the ball before it could skip across the line. Multiple Mount Hebron players had their heads in their hands, sensing that was perhaps their last chance — so it proved to be.
“I have such trust in my defense that they’re going to stop the cross, and if they don’t stop the cross, they’re going to stop the header,” said Diedrich. “And if they don’t get that, it’s just (for me to) read and react.”
The clock eventually drained to zero, setting off jubilation and a coronating fitting the queens of 3A soccer. Severna Park’s final line from the 2023 season reads: 17 games played, 17 wins, 14 shutouts, 60 goals scored, three goals conceded, county champions, region champions, state champions.
“We just kept working to earn the next day,” Diedrich said. “And we earned all of them.”