Two Old Mill soccer coaches left the Anne Arundel County Soccer Championships feeling lucky on Tuesday, but for entirely different reasons.
Boys' coach Jeff Martin said his team had stolen a 2-0 win -- and a county title -- from feisty Severna Park.
Girls' coach Claudia Kirkup felt fortunate just to have her team playing in the championship game, never mind its 1-0 win over South River.
Kirkup's team earned a spot in the championship game because it won a coin flip at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday. With Arundel, Severna Park and Old Mill tied for second place in the county, athletic directors from the three schools met to decide who would play for the championship by the least scientific of methods: luck.
"It's too bad, and it had never happened before," said Marlene Kelly, the county athletics supervisor. "It was a total fluke that everyone was so even, but it had to come down to flipping quarters."
Old Mill's call -- heads -- appropriately started what would be a great day for the Patriots. The undefeated boys' team started slowly against Severna Park, but woke up quickly after halftime. Freshman Andrew Bullis broke a scoreless tie 10 minutes into the second half, and sophomore Morgan Midgett added an insurance goal five minutes later.
The Patriots had lost 11 starters from last year's team, the county runner-up. "If you asked me a few months ago if we'd be here," Martin said, "I would have told you, 'No way. There's not a chance.' What this team has done so far is totally crazy."
Said goalie Shawn Fernholz: "Even though we're undefeated, we keep surprising people. Nobody ever thought we could be this good."
Still, the boys' team ranks as just the second-biggest soccer surprise at its own school. The girls' team won four games last season, and it hadn't played in the county championship game -- much less won it -- in eight years.
Players woke up Tuesday morning fearing another season would come to an anticlimactic end. Instead, they learned upon arriving at school that they'd play for the county championship.
"Right after the flip, everybody started making calls on their cell phones," said Kelly, who later said the county would look into changing the tiebreaker system in January. "It's not the usual way to do things, but it sure made it interesting."
At the beginning of the volleyball season, Broadneck Coach Romonzo Beans said that teams in Anne Arundel County had never been tougher.
They still haven't kept up with the Bruins.
Despite a shaky start and a midseason conference loss to Severna Park, the Bruins sit at the top of the county standings with an 8-1 record. They've basically clinched a spot in the county championship game, to be held Nov. 1.
"We look like a different team than we did at the beginning of the year," Beans said. "We're more focused, we're more together. We look like contenders now."
Credit the turnaround to a midseason maturation. The Bruins returned only two starters this season, and they start a freshman (Ally Malesich) for the first time in school history. During practices at the beginning of the season, Beans instructed his team on the basics of volleyball. "That's something," setter Stephanie Carey said, "that he usually doesn't have to do."
Beans's effort proved worthwhile. Aside from Carey and Allie Woods -- the county's premier set-and-spike duo -- Kanishia Sheppard and Kassie Montgomery have grown into reliable finishers.
"If we keep improving like this," Beans said, "then we could do just about anything."
Looking for Postseason
South River field hockey coach Laura Hoffner acknowledged that her team "played well, they played hard" during last week's 4-0 loss to Severna Park in the county championship. But the Falcons, Hoffner added, were "a notch above anything I've seen in high school sports in a long time" in earning their 10th consecutive title game triumph.
"They probably could contend with a Division I school," said Hoffner. "Every pass was perfect."
It's now Hoffner's task to erase that tough loss from her players' psyche and ready them for the Maryland 4A playoffs -- and that means better passing. The Seahawks (11-3), who are in a separate playoff bracket from Class 3A Severna Park, host Arundel in a 4A East quarterfinal tonight at 7:15.
"It's something you see when we play against a good team" like Severna Park, said Hoffner. "Our passes were not crisp enough, not quick enough. It's obviously something we need to work on."
South River is out to prove last season's postseason missteps were simply a hiccup for one of the Washington area's most talented teams. South River won the region title with ease and was the favorite to win the state, but lost to Springbrook in the 4A semifinals.
"Our goal this year," stated Hoffner, "is to win states."
That said, South River, paced by goals leader Shannon Long and points leader Jill Hodges, shouldn't overlook Arundel.
"They always play tough against South River. A lot of these kids went to middle school together, so they know [each other's games]. We only beat them 1-0 [on Sept. 15]. They're a very aggressive team," Hoffner said.
Holding Their Own
It took a rare defeat to inject some optimism into Archbishop Spalding girls' soccer coach Bob Dieterle. After an overtime loss on Oct. 19 to undefeated John Carroll that dropped his team to 11-3-2, the veteran coach pulled his team aside and said, "I like our chances now better than ever."
Why? Spalding outplayed John Carroll for most of the game. It dominated the pace of play in muddy conditions. It lost only on an headed goal 10 minutes into the extra period.
"We're beginning to play our best soccer," Dieterle said. "It's all about the playoffs coming up. If we can play with a team like John Carroll, we can hold our own against anybody."
Dave Yanovitz contributed to this report.