It was a team that exceeded outsiders’ expectations, gained momentum while tearing through the regular season, won the county championship, slayed the defending state champs in the region final, and subdued teams near and far with a smothering brand of defense and a balanced offense.
It just wasn’t quite enough to get to the state final.
The Severna Park girls soccer team’s hot season came to a frosty end on November 11 as the Falcons were outplayed ever so slightly by a strong Walt Whitman team in bitter cold and wind in the 4A state semifinals at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, where the Vikings engineered a second-half goal to claim a 1-0 victory.
“The girls battled like they did all year. A little unlucky on the one goal, but those things happen, and credit to [Whitman], they put it away,” said Severna Park head coach Brian Morgan. “We fought all game, and it was just one of those things where they end up with one more.”
A berth in the state final was right there for the taking, and Severna Park (17-2) looked for much of the night to be employing the formula that had carried them to 13 straight wins entering the semifinals and a preposterous 16 shutouts in 2018: stay cool under pressure, finish a scoring chance or two, and leave another opponent frustrated and defeated. The back line foursome of Kiersten Crowley, Emily Knight, Lena McLaughlin and Chase Campbell handled pressure in front of goalkeeper Katie Byrd, dispossessing Viking buildups and passing calmly out of the back. Midfielders Kaitlyn McCulloch, Madeline Altman, Toni Fiocco-Mizer, Lauren Campbell, Rachel Spilker and Chloe Nagel and forwards Sam Cremmins, Bella Espinoza, Ella Raines and Abby Parkison rotated to help on defense and mounted threats of their own.
Tied 0-0 into the second half, the Falcons nearly took the lead on a corner kick by Altman, but McLaughlin’s header rang the crossbar of the goal and was booted away to keep the game scoreless.
The Vikings took the lead moments later, as a shot by Matilda MacKay ricocheted high off the crossbar and fell to Morgan Riso, who headed it back across Byrd for a 1-0 lead with less than 20 minutes remaining.
Severna Park sent everyone forward to try for a late equalizer, but chances were few, and the season came to an early end.
The semifinal loss was a bittersweet end point for a program making its 15th state tournament appearance and angling for a sixth state crown all-time, but it also marked the return to prominence for the Falcons in the 4A East, a region largely dominated by Broadneck and South River in the past six seasons.
Severna Park’s season gained steam as it went. The Falcons avenged their only regular-season defeat by topping the Seahawks on penalties to win the county championship on October 23, and they ousted their rivals and the reigning state champs in a shootout win over the Bruins to claim the region crown on November 5, the program’s first region title since 2011.
En route to the state tournament, the Falcons manufactured success in a somewhat unconventional way: Severna Park was a team without a superstar. They didn’t benefit from any singular overpowering talent, no tour-de-force blue chipper that championship teams often rely on to drive success.
Instead, Severna Park was a team in which everyone fit their role perfectly, and the Falcons leveraged their teamwork to become greater than the sum of their individual parts.
“That’s how I’ve looked at it this year,” said Morgan. “They’re a special group.”
Nowhere was this more apparent than on defense, where the Falcons were dominant. Crowley, McLaughlin, Knight, Chase Campbell and Byrd were the state’s most impenetrable defense, communicating effectively and operating almost flawlessly throughout the year. Even Whitman can’t claim a season of 16 shutouts and only five goals surrendered in 19 games.
“A lot of it is being in the program for the last three years,” said Morgan. “They’ve all got a pretty good grasp on what we’re trying to achieve. A lot of it is that communication and the understanding that the game is going to dictate players moving around. Once you realize your partner is in a different spot, it’s about how can you support them or replace them.”
On offense, the Falcons took turns playing hero. Raines (nine goals), Lauren Campbell (six goals, four assists), Espinoza (six goals), Fiocco-Mizer (four goals, five assists), Cremmins (two goals, eight assists), Altman (four goals, four assists) and Knight (six assists) racked up numbers, but tallies were spread evenly throughout the team, as 21 different players scored or assisted.
Together with the underclassmen, this year’s senior class turned the program around from a five-win season in 2016 to a berth in the region final last year to a breakthrough into the state tournament this year.
“I’m happy that we could help this program, and when we were here, get even better than [before] we were here,” said Cremmins, a senior captain. “They’ve told us so many times we’ve made an impact on this team, and that’s what really matters to me, no matter how far we go.”
McCulloch, a senior and captain, spoke beyond the game itself when describing her pride for the season and the program.
“I’m happy for the times we’ve had, and not only on the soccer field,” she said. “We’ve grown closer as people. We laugh. We laugh a lot together. We find ways to laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes. On the field, we push each other. We’ve grown not only on the soccer field, but as people as well, and I feel like everyone on the team has made me a better person and taught me something new. I’m happy for the times we’ve had and sad that it’s over, but it all has to end at some point.”
Cremmins said a renewed standard is established at Severna Park, and the remaining Falcons will look to take another step in 2019.
“Next year,” Cremmins said, “they’ll be back.”