Severn junior goalkeeper Erin McCord has hands big enough to palm a basketball, but it's an attribute that led her to the soccer field.
"I've been playing ever since fourth grade," said McCord, measuring her hand against a teammate's. "They basically said, 'Put the tall girl with big hands in goal.' They're so huge."
If anyone has a reason to want this year's Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference title, it's McCord. For the last two years, she was the last line of defense in semifinal games, but the Admirals lost both in shootouts. McCord said this year will be different.
"There will be no shootouts this time. Every year we get all the way there and we get taken out by some team. . . . We deserve it, let's put it that way," she said. "We worked hard this season and we have good chances this year."
The Admirals haven't won the B Conference title since 1997, but coaches and players agree that this is the best team they have seen in years. After a 3-0 win against St. Paul's last week, Severn closed its regular season with an 11-2-2 overall record. Spalding and St. Mary's, the other two county schools in the IAAM, also have had successful regular seasons despite injuries and entered the playoffs with confidence.
At the Oct. 24 seeding meeting, St. Mary's was placed No. 3 and Spalding was No. 4 in the A Conference. Severn was seeded No. 3 in the B Conference and played Pallotti in Tuesday's quarterfinals, a game that ended too late for publication. Pallotti is the only league team that beat the Admirals in the regular season.
Spalding faced a tough test Tuesday against McDonogh. The semifinals begin at 3 p.m. today at the higher seed's field.
The tournament bracket gave the Admirals a chance at redemption, with a possible semifinal rematch against St. John's. Last year, the teams battled to a scoreless tie in regulation.
With McCord in goal and junior sweeper Nikki Johnson in front of her, the Admirals have allowed only three goals this season. Offensively, four players have scored at least seven goals. Junior midfielder Brionna Ned scored twice against St. Paul's to finish the season with a team-high 10 goals. Ned said the toughest tournament competition will come from Maryvale, which Severn tied, 1-1.
"They have really good individual skills," said Ned, who also competes on the Crofton United under-18 club team. "They can trap well, but I think we can take them. I think we have more heart than they do."
Severn played Maryvale after 10 days of no practices and had two league games canceled because of the recent sniper shootings. St. Mary's, which has a legitimate shot at a third consecutive A Conference title, canceled one league game and finished the regular season in third place at 12-2-1. All county teams had their seasons altered by canceled games; Baltimore area schools did not cancel their games.
St. Mary's canceled five games because of the sniper shootings, but Coach Jerry Tobin said the time off was beneficial. Sophomore goalkeeper Marie Oben was out with a broken nose; senior defender Meghan Ryan suffered a season-ending torn ACL; and junior midfielder Jennifer Naylor has been struggling with back spasms.
"I won't say I'm surprised. Impressed, yes," Tobin said. "When everyone went down, if someone would have told me we'd have this record, I'd have a hard time believing it. The games that got canceled, I don't know how we would've been. We wouldn't have been healthy for them."
Senior Mary Key is the Saints' leading scorer for a second year in a row with 14 goals and nine assists, but the team's defense has been integral to its success. Oben, who is in her first year in goal, has made 55 saves and allowed only four goals in 8 1/2 games for a .932 save percentage. Senior defender Ashley Kennedy has done her job while also filling the holes left by Ryan's injury.
St. Mary's will be one of Spalding's toughest tournament opponents, but the Cavaliers have made tremendous strides this fall. Led by first-year coach Bob Dieterle, Spalding (10-5-1 overall, 5-3-1 A Conference) defeated the Institute of Notre Dame for the first time in at least four years. The Cavaliers jumped from a seventh-place finish last year to fourth this fall.
"I knew we had it in us," said junior forward Emily Sullivan, who leads the team with 19 goals. "We're going to try to prove to everyone how good we've done this season and to show that in the playoffs."