Larry Nuzzaci stood on the sideline, perhaps holding his breath, hoping his Rockville High girls soccer team would finish the regular season unscored upon. After all, how often does one get a chance to coach a team that is that dominant?
If the Rams were to give up a goal in the final regular season match, Nuzzaci thought, let it be a difficult shot, something that would "have been easier to take."
So what happened when the Rams -- then 11-0 and having outscored their opponents, 36-0 -- ended the regular season against Seneca Valley last week? Rockville led, 1-0, but the Screaming Eagles scored on a penalty kick with less than three minutes to play. The match went into double overtime and both teams scored, the Eagles again on a penalty kick. It ended in a 2-2 tie.
No more undefeated, untied, unscored-upon season.
"We really didn't start to think about it until three games ago. We really wanted it then," said Nuzzaci, who coached the Rockville boys team to state championships in 1981, 1983 and 1984.
What was tough for Nuzacci was seeing the faces of his players, who had worked hard all season and just missed the opportunity do what perhaps few teams have done before.
"No team has done that in sport, that I know of," said Nuzzaci, whose team defeated Sherwood, 3-1, Monday in the quarterfinals of the Montgomery County playoffs.
"There was a brief letdown where we started counting grass blades, and then all of a sudden we said, 'We don't have time to feel bad.' I think the way the team reacted to the goal was a very mature way for a lot of juniors [the Rams have only one senior starter]."
A determined look appeared on his face. "I think the girls are fired up now," he said.
To Nuzzaci, the Rams are something special. His players are so special to him that, despite his love of baseball, he turned down the junior varsity baseball coaching position next year to stay with the team.
Donna Wagner, the Rams' centerback, spoke seriously over a murmur of giggles from the rest of the team. "We're not a team; we're a family," she said. "I mean, it's true in a sense. We play, we joke and we work. We get along real well, and I think that helps us. We don't get on each other. A lot of teams get on the field and constantly yell at each other, and it breaks away from the game."
It's the Rams' defense -- led by Wagner, sweeper Laura Wilson and goalkeeper Kathy Tarnoff -- that is the protector of the family. Just ask Wagner how she got the plethora of bruises on her leg.
"There's a confidence we all have," said Wagner, looking around at her teammates. "By confidence, I guess I mean when the ball moves back to the line, I know she is going to get it. I know she can distribute it out."
Tarnoff, who Nuzzaci said is one of the best goalkeepers he has coached, doesn't worry during a match.
"This is the team I'm most relaxed behind," she said. "I just love playing for them."