Mount Hebron Coach Tim Deppen remembers the five freshmen who sat away from the rest of the team during the first day of varsity soccer tryouts three years ago.
"They were quiet and so much smaller than everybody else," he said. "I wasn't sure how long they'd last. And then I saw them play. It's like they haven't left the field since."
That's the story of the "Fab Five," better known as Kristen Elliott, Bria Eulitt, Jaqueline Giles, Sarah Gormley and Kathryn Lally. The quintet impressed Deppen then with the same attributes it displayed in last week's 3-2 victory at sixth-ranked Glenelg, using crisp passes and smooth dribbling skills to control the midfield against bigger, more physical players.
"It's like we've grown up on this team together, and we play very well together," said Lally, a midfielder. "We know what each other can do, and I think we've developed some great chemistry."
The Vikings' success -- they entered the week 6-2-3 overall, 4-0-3 in league play -- is a result of Deppen's youth movement in 2003. That season, the Vikings finished 4-10-1, 4-6 and lost in the first round of the 3A East Region tournament. Last year, the Vikings finished 10-6, 7-3 and lost in the semifinals of the region tournament.
"We've been building for this season since we came here," said Gormley, a midfielder. "Every year, we're listed in the newspaper as being a team to watch but never the one that gets the recognition. This year, I think we can definitely change the way people see our team."
There's nothing flashy about the Vikings. Six players account for their 14 goals, led by senior forward Jessica Glazer (five goals), Elliott (two goals) and Lally (one goal, three assists).
Mount Hebron's defense -- led by Giles and Eulitt -- has shut down opponents' top scorers and boosted the attack with accurate outlet passes.
The Vikings have allowed just seven goals, and senior goalie Chelsea Binder has posted five shutouts.
"I think we just work harder than anything else, and that we're winning close games is not a fluke," said Giles, who shifts between midfield and sweeper. "We've won close games all season, and now when the game's close we're confident we're going to win."
That's what happened against Glenelg. Juniors Amanda Feaga and Blair Maxson scored to give Glenelg a 2-1 lead at intermission. Mount Hebron kept its composure and continued to push toward goal. That paid off when Glazer tied the game with a shot into the lower-right corner of the goal with 18 minutes remaining.
About four minutes later, junior defender Kara Passarelli ran to the goalmouth and headed-in Lally's throw-in for the winner.
"Mount Hebron hung around all game, and all of a sudden they made their move and ended up winning the game even though I felt we controlled the game," said Glenelg Coach Dean Sheridan. "We just didn't play with the same intensity as we did in the first half, and Mount Hebron made the plays it needed to win."
The Vikings entered the final week of the season with games against River Hill (Tuesday), Long Reach (today) and Wilde Lake (tomorrow). A sweep of those games, coupled with a loss by Centennial (9-1-1, 7-0-1), would give them a share of the county title. But Mount Hebron is focused on a bigger trophy -- the 3A title.
"We're playing phenomenally, the best we have all season," Deppen said. "We're going to be tough for anyone to beat, and our girls believe they can win, and that's really important because it shows how far they've come in a few years."