With 2004 All-Met Player of the Year Michael Rollings and his 22 goals lost to graduation, the Sherwood boys' soccer team has returned to the Maryland 4A championship game with a different focus -- defense.
When the defending champion Warriors (14-3-1) kick off against Broadneck at UMBC on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., they will have gone more than a month without yielding a goal. During that seven-game span, Sherwood has outscored opponents 12-0 and captured its first 4A North Region title (it moved to that region this season from the 4A West).
"They're just the best defense I've ever seen," Sherwood senior midfielder Jabel Prom said Friday after the Warriors beat Bladensburg, 1-0, to advance to the state final. "I'd hate to be the striker of another team playing this team. They're just perfect. They're calm. They're all just high-quality defenders."
The departure of Rollings and honorable mention All-Met sweeper Pete Young forced Coach Hector Morales Jr. to make changes to his defensive lineup and formations. Those changes, which Morales preferred to keep secret ahead of Saturday's final, weren't received well at first, he said.
"Now," Morales said, "they don't want to go back to anything else."
The Warriors' defense -- led in part by backs Sam Pettee, Erick Alves de Sa, David Kerick and Jeff Sandusky -- has helped generate offense, although not as many goals as Morales would like. Three of Sherwood's four playoff wins were by scores of 1-0, and the other was won in a penalty shootout after a scoreless tie.
"We're not finishing as much as I would like, but we're getting the chances," Morales said. "And that starts with winning the ball in our back and being able to have the confidence in them to say, 'Hey we can do it with these guys.'
"I think we're relying on them too much. I don't know how they're getting away with just one goal a game, but it's working. The backs are playing well."
Saturday's game has the makings of a low-scoring affair. Broadneck (15-2-1), the Anne Arundel County co-champions and 4A East Region winner, has given up only two goals in its last five games.
"If you asked me a year ago if I thought I'd be there I would have said, 'I have no idea,' " Morales said. "It's exciting. It's a testament to the boys."
Whitman Girls Riding High
Whitman's girls' soccer team's lowest point this season may prove to be one of its most important as the defending 4A champion's enter tomorrow's title game.
The Vikings lost consecutive games midway through the season, dropping their record to 4-3. A team that returned the bulk of its starting lineup and had begun the season with high expectations was suddenly struggling.
But not for long.
First-year coach Greg Herbert said the losses provided motivation and Whitman has since reeled off eight consecutive victories in which it has outscored its opponents 26-3. The Vikings will try win their ninth in a row against C.M. Wright at UMBC tomorrow at 5.
"There were definitely high expectations this season. People used to joke with me that there was nowhere to go but down," Herbert said. "You could really see a difference [after the losses]. You could see the fire in the girls' eyes. Since then they have stepped up their intensity and we've gone on an unprecedented run."
Leading the way has been senior midfielder Charlotte Rizzi, who has 10 goals and 10 assists -- including four goals and four assists in four postseason games.
Bullis Claims IAC Crown
Throughout Bullis's run to its first Interstate Athletic Conference boys' soccer championship since 2000, senior defender Paul Potemra remembered what it felt like to lose.
That loathsome feeling fueled the Bulldogs' will to win this season. After going 2-12-2 in 2002, No. 3 Bullis went 17-1 in its most successful season since 1997. The Bulldogs won their last 15 games and went 10-0 in the IAC.
"It definitely humbles you," Potemra said of his experience on the 2002 team. "We had a bunch of guys [this season] that didn't like to lose."
Bullis took aim at an undefeated and untied conference record after sweeping two games from defending champion Georgetown Prep. Another inspiring moment for the team, according to Coach George Moore, was watching the undefeated 1994 boys' soccer team's induction into the Bullis Athletic Hall of Fame.
"Now, they've made a place for themselves," Moore said.