Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title is still up for grabs.
Westlake, Leonardtown and Patuxent have taken care of business against the rest of the conference and have given each other all they can handle. The Raiders outlasted the Panthers in a 2-1 thriller Sept. 29. The Wolverines held on for a 4-2 win over Leonardtown on Oct. 1, and the final clash between the teams took place Friday night when Patuxent traveled to Westlake.
The teams have another common thread as they head into the final week: Each will play a tough Northern squad, which is 6-3-1 overall, 4-3-1 in conference play.
The Raiders (7-3, 7-1 SMAC) are facing their second extended layoff of the season. They went more than two weeks without a game at the end of last month and will have more than a week off this time around because Tuesday's game against Chopticon was postponed when the referees did not show up.
Leonardtown will also be without two starters for its final three games of the regular season. Midfielder Evan Feldman tore cartilage in her knee in a win over Lackey on Oct. 4 but could return for the playoffs. Defender Diane Mattingly may be out even longer after tearing her hamstring in a club game. The Raiders will look to less experienced players to fill the void.
"We played the Calvert game [a 4-0 win Oct. 8] without Evan but have not played yet without Diane," Raiders Coach Jennifer Henderson said. "We will have to see if people can step up."
Westlake Coach Will Morris walked out of Thursday's practice when the team wasn't giving the effort he desired. The Wolverines (6-3, 6-0) were coming off a hard-fought 2-0 win over Thomas Stone on Tuesday (Friday's game against Patuxent was postponed because of rain).
Midfielder Thuy Le and the other captains pulled the group together to remind them that there is still work to be done and that they can't afford a letdown.
"The girls have been pointing to this week all season, saying, 'Let's beat Stone and then let's beat Patuxent,' " Morris said.
One of the Wolverines' leading scorers, Liz Striegel, has been playing injured the majority of the season, and Westlake will need her to be as healthy as possible when it faces challenges from Northern and Calvert (5-2-1, 5-2-1) this week.
This season has been the most successful ever for Patuxent (7-1, 7-1). The team will post its first winning record in school history and has claimed the Calvert Cup, which annually goes to the top team in Calvert County. So it would be easy for the Panthers to relax going into the final games of the year with many of their goals achieved.
But the Panthers can't rest. They want a share of the SMAC title and want to advance to the Maryland 4A playoffs. Any lapse in play could jeopardize both opportunities.
"I want them to know what they've done," said Charlie Raphael, Patuxent's fourth-year coach. "I told them this time would come, and it's here and I want them to enjoy it, but you're only as good as your last game."