For the Bethesda Excel, simply reaching the U.S. Youth Soccer under-18 girls' national championship was a record-breaking feat. The Bethesda Soccer Club team became the first squad to make three consecutive appearances in the national tournament, Excel Coach Dave Nolan said. However, for the third straight year, the group of talented players fell short of its ultimate goal, losing 4-3 in overtime to the Laguna Hills Eclipse of California on Sunday at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
"To get there three years in a row was unprecedented, but we went down there to win it," said Nolan, who has coached the majority of the Excel's players since they were 14. "Winning the title was their focus."
Bethesda defeated Laguna Hills during round robin play and entered the elimination rounds with the best record (2-0-1), most goals scored (seven) and fewest allowed (two).
Hannah Madej put Bethesda ahead in the final with a 21st-minute goal. After the Eclipse evened the score late in the first half, Natasha Mann put Bethesda back on top by scoring in the 53rd minute. Laguna sent the game into overtime on Kiara Bosio's goal in the 73rd minute and then scored two quick goals in overtime.
Madej, who hadn't scored all season, got her second goal of the game in the 118th minute to bring the Excel within one goal. The Excel nearly evened the score twice in the final minutes, forcing two scrambles in front of Laguna's goal, but defenders cleared the ball off the goal line both times.
Bethesda made its tournament run without two of its best players -- forward Ashley Myers and defenseman Karrah Benson, who were injured.
"Without those two we lost a little bit of depth," Nolan said. "To lose two prominent players and get as close as we did, I thought was a great achievement."
Nolan said the team left the tournament knowing they were given an opportunity against a very good opponent. Two years ago the Excel lost on penalty kicks, a year Nolan said "we were the best team" in the tournament.
Last season, the Excel were eliminated on goal differential by a team that scored five goals in the final game of round robin play.
"We haven't gotten much luck," Nolan said. "The key when you get down to [the national championships] is you have to have everybody healthy or you have to get a little luck."
Nolan said he will not coach the Excel next year when it becomes an under-19 team. "They need to hear a new voice," he said.
But after four straight summers, Nolan cannot simply say goodbye. As coach of the Georgetown University women's soccer team, he'll get to follow many of the players' careers in college -- even if they are now opponents. Regardless, it's difficult to see this journey together come to an end.
"It's sad to say goodbye to them," Nolan said. "It's been a great run. We're the first team [to go to nationals] three years in a row. We've certainly raised the bar on any team coming out of Bethesda, the state or the region. Three in a row is not a bad deal." . . .
The Potomac Cougars under-14 boys' team won its final round robin game on Friday but were eliminated from the tournament based on goal aggregate.
The Cougars (1-1-1) defeated Tulsa Soccer Club 91, 2-0, but were eliminated after So. Cal United beat the Chicago Magic, 3-0.
United went on to beat the Magic on penalty kicks in Sunday's final.
Under the Weather
After rolling through the regular season with just two losses, the Gaithersburg Post 295 baseball team finally ran into an opponent it could not simply swing through: Mother Nature.
Last weekend, Post 295 won its third straight Montgomery County title and advanced to the American Legion state tournament scheduled to begin on Friday. However games on Friday and Saturday were postponed because of rain, forcing officials to change the tournament from double to single elimination.
Gaithersburg's quest for a third straight state title came to a disappointing end in the first round after falling to Funkstown, 11-9.
"It was disappointing, that's for sure," said Post 295 Coach Rick Price, who has guided the team since its formation in 1984. "We made the best of what was not a good circumstance.
"We certainly wanted to play a full tournament."
And for good reason. Deep on starting pitching and loaded with hitting, Gaithersburg is built to thrive in tournaments like this. Where most teams are scraping together a starting pitcher by tournament's end, Gaithersburg is pulling another ace out of the rotation.
Included in Gaithersburg's rotation is 2004 All-Met Brian Conley (Quince Orchard), 2005 second-team All-Met Joe Mattes (Quince Orchard), Chris Maloney (Quince Orchard), Brett Fox (Northwest), Jensen Pupa (Northwest) and Brady Stouffer (Northwest).
Funkstown left nothing to chance against Gaithersburg. The Hagerstown-area team used its top four starting pitchers en route to building an 11-6 lead entering the ninth. Gaithersburg scored three times in the ninth but stranded runners on second and third to end the game.
"Funkstown is a good team," Price said. "They hit the ball real well. We lost to a real good team."