BALTIMORE—Entering the Class 4A state final against Perry Hall on November 15, the Severna Park girls soccer team had recent experience with a penalty shootout, having defeated Winston Churchill on penalty kicks in the state semifinals just a week earlier.
The thrill of the Falcons’ semifinal victory found its agonizing counterpart in the final against Perry Hall, as the Falcons played the Gators to a 0-0 tie only to fall on penalties, 0-0 (4-3), at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
The Falcons, making their first appearance in the state final since 2011, delivered 100 minutes of exacting soccer execution worthy of a victory.
They just couldn’t avoid the heartbreak that always awaits one side in a state championship game.
“It’s been an unbelievable season for us,” said Severna Park head coach Rick Stimpson. “The girls have played incredibly well throughout every game, even tonight. One thing I said, we talked about it in the locker room: At the end of the season, you’ve got to be good, and you’ve got to have a bit of luck. We were good, we just didn’t have the bit of luck we needed. I couldn’t be more proud of the team and them all. They’ve been great all year.”
With students and families from both schools packing the stadium and creating an electric Friday-night atmosphere, the game offered a display of complete teamwork and sheer skill that only a season of competing and a lifetime of training can yield. Severna Park (15-2-3) showed why it has been one of the state’s most fearsome collections of talent this fall.
It began on defense, where the Falcons notched their 12th shutout of the season.
Leah Myers and Olivia Altman made critical interventions to disrupt a pair of Perry Hall breakaway chances in the first half, and they continued stellar play throughout the night. Backs Chase Campbell and Lena McLaughlin provided stout clearances and excellent possession, with McLaughlin repeatedly anticipating Perry Hall attacks and heading away troublesome Gator passes. Senior goalie Katie Byrd, who played the role of hero in the semifinals by clinching the Falcons’ win with a save in the penalty shootout, made a pair of clean saves in the first half. She finished with four for the game and came off her line for multiple important catches throughout the night. Freshman Ava Schultz provided valuable minutes with strong defense.
Perry Hall coach Matt Smoot recognized what his side was up against.
“If we are honest, I don’t know if we were able to play our best game,” he said. “I think and that’s a tribute to Severna Park. They made it very tough for us to possess the ball and attack the way we are used to. So it really became that game of attrition.”
With the defense delivering its characteristically excellent play, the midfield and forwards were freed to attack. Perry Hall (13-6) found no way to contain the dynamic attacking of Maddie Altman, who pushed a relentless pace throughout the night. Sofia Espinoza, Ella Raines, Lauren Campbell, Toni Fiocco-Mizer, Joi Fleming and Bella Espinoza all fortified the Severna Park offense.
There were opportunities. McLaughlin got her head to a corner pass from Maddie Altman in the first half and headed the ball down onto goal, but it was cleared off the line by Perry Hall.
In the second half, Lauren Campbell’s volley blast from 20 yards was bound for the top corner of the net, but Perry Hall’s Caroline Warns leaped to get her head to it and deflect it away. Fiocco-Mizer let a shot rip from distance, but it sailed wide. Chase Campbell’s free kick shot from 25 yards was on frame, but goalie Breanna Ellenberger was able to bat the ball down to herself and collect it before McLaughlin could pounce on the rebound.
Bella Espinoza sent a precise through ball into space for Raines, but Raines’s run was just offside, halting a breakaway chance.
Maddie Altman drew oohs and ahs from the crowd with a sensational full-speed Marseille dribble through two Gator defenders to continue sparking Severna Park’s attack. Raines did the same on the opposite sideline, pirouetting through two Perry Hall tackles. Ellie Lane and Rachel Reed saw minutes to provide punch off the bench.
It just didn’t add up to a score. Through regulation time, then the first overtime, then the second, Lauren Campbell’s headed-away shot remained the best chance for either team.
The Falcons began the penalty shootout. Maddie Altman and Bella Espinoza converted their chances, and Perry Hall responded both times. After another Perry Hall make and two Severna Park misses, a moment of unbelievable confusion took over the stadium when the Gators mistakenly celebrated prematurely, dog-piling in front of the goal before the shootout was actually over, believing they had won.
Naturally, once the referee informed everyone the game actually wasn’t over, the Gators missed their ensuing two kicks and Lauren Campbell made hers, extending the shootout. In the sixth round of kicks, after a Severna Park miss, Perry Hall’s Erin Marciszewski converted her chance perfectly, past Byrd’s outstretched dive to her right, to clinch the championship, 0-0 (4-3); the Gators successfully defended their 4A title from a season ago.
Severna Park’s appearance in the final, its 10th all-time and 16th semifinal-or-better finish since 1989, marks the near-culmination of the Falcons’ resurgence in the past four seasons. The program went 5-7-3 in 2016, when the current seniors were freshman and former coach Brian Morgan was in his first year leading the team.
Since, the Falcons have improved each season. The program went 13-1-2 and made the region final in 2017, then followed by going 17-2 with 16 shutouts and an appearance in the state semifinals in 2018. With Stimpson taking over for Morgan this year, the Falcons continued the program’s rise with a trip all the way to the state final and a 15-3-2 campaign.
Bella Espinoza, a senior who healed from a broken foot suffered on October 3 in time to come back for the playoffs, said the Falcons are proud of how much they have advanced the program; many of the current seniors were on varsity as sophomores.
“My class has contributed to making history, from sophomore year making it to regionals, and then semifinals my junior year and finally states my senior year,” she said. “This has been the most amazing experience of my life, and even though we lost, I am so thankful that we had the longest possible season with this team and coach Stimmo.”
McLaughlin and Byrd showed grace and humility in speaking to media in the postgame press conference.
“Seeing everyone every day, working hard with them every day, sharing the common goal every day just really brings us all together,” McLaughlin said. “It’s incredible because this whole season has just blown my expectations, and it’s just amazing to have made it this far.”
Said Byrd, “This was a great way to end the season. Obviously we didn’t get the result we wanted, but it was just a great level of intensity and an awesome chance to come this far. It’s been very bittersweet to know it’s the last. So it’s been a balance to enjoy every last moment you have and then of course huge excitement building up to this game. We were so excited and just trying to take it all in.”
Fiocco-Mizer, a four-year varsity player, said the team grew in strength as the players grew closer together.
“This team is more than just a team,” Fiocco-Mizer said. “We are a family. I’ve never been so proud of the girls. We didn’t reach our ultimate goal, but we fought with pride and honor, and that’s all I could ask for from my 30 sisters. I’ve played for this team for four years, and each year was better than the last. I will always remember this experience and always be a Falcon at heart.”
The 4A state runner-up 2019 Severna Park girls soccer players are Leah Myers, Olivia Altman, Chase Campbell, Lena McLaughlin, Katie Byrd, Ava Schultz, Maddie Altman, Sofia Espinoza, Ella Raines, Lauren Campbell, Toni Fiocco-Mizer, Joi Fleming, Bella Espinoza, Ellie Lane, Rachel Reed, Delaney Lee, Lauren Vincent, Reagan Clark, Sydney Holmes, Lexi Richardson, Mackenzie Rice, Sydney Park, Chloe Nagel, Riley Edwards, Olivia Nicholson, Jordyn Urrea, Hanna Verrault, Mallori Scheimreif and Delanie Robertson. They are coached by Rick Stimpson and assistants Denise Hofstedt, Johan de Vicq, James Joyner, Kendall Kosman and Ryan Parisi. The team managers are Kendall Nagel, Becca Cremmins and Bella Glady.
In postgame comments, player after player for Severna Park spoke of their affinity for one another, the family-like aspect of the Falcon program, and the impact they’ve felt from playing for Severna Park.
Katie Byrd: “I definitely think there’s like a family bond. We really worked hard on being inclusive and growing tighter-knit as a team.”
Chase Campbell: “I am proud of the way this team became so much more than a team. It became a family, a group of girls that I could go to about the most petty things or life-changing things and they would 100% be on my side no matter what. I will remember the race to team dinners, the happy, sweaty smiles shared after 300’s, and how I met my best friends on this team. I will keep in contact with everyone for sure, as I love them so so much. These girls have taught me more than they realize and I am very privileged to have been their captain. I am sorry this season didn’t turn out totally how we wanted to, but I am proud of my family who made it this far. Watch out for us next year. The legacy, the family, the honor continues, as it will, forever and always. GO PARK!”
Bella Espinoza: “I am so proud of how far we all went this year. We made history. The last time the girls soccer program was in state championship was 2011, so I’m so incredibly proud of everyone and how hard we have worked to be here. I will definitely remember how close we all are. This year specifically, we had an amazing bond and I love all of these girls with my whole heart. One of the best things this season was starting and playing with my sister [Sofia Espinoza]. I will never be able to again, and I’m so thankful that I was able to be with her for two years. This program means everything to me…I think the most memorable thing for myself personally is how I was able to come back and play with my team after being out for a lot of the season. I honestly don’t think I would’ve healed as fast as I did if I didn’t have their support and love. I’m really going to miss high school soccer and I’m going to definitely be depressed about it for awhile, but I’m looking forward to coming back next year and being their No. 1 fan! I have full confidence in this team and the program in the future, and we will be back!”
Olivia Altman: “I’m proud of how our team has worked together throughout this entire season. We all have held each other up no matter what, and we are like a family. All four years of playing soccer has meant a lot to me. Together we all have become a family, more than just soccer.”
Lauren Campbell: “I can not explain how proud I am of our team this year, although I can try. They are the most hardworking, dedicated group of soccer players I have ever met. I haven’t felt such a strong connection to my team in awhile. I appreciate every single player on this team, of course including the coaching staff. Having our new coach this year was a blessing. He kept me motivated even on the earliest of Saturdays. Coach Johan and Coach Denise continued to make me smile and work my hardest everyday. This program has changed me completely throughout the past four years. I have grown as a person equally as much as a soccer player. The people I have met through the team will be my forever teammates, no matter where they go after high school, and I know the younger teammates this year will feel the same.”