Midfielder Tara Gardner could best be described as Severna Park's cleanup player last season. The ball came across the circle from the right wing and if one of her teammates failed to put a shot on goal, Gardner was always on the left post, ready to redirect the ball toward the cage.
It was a role she performed with such proficiency that she led Anne Arundel County in scoring with 31 goals. But with sophomore forward Hayley Rausch leading the second-ranked Falcons (12-1) with a county-best 24 goals this season, there's a reasonable explanation why there hasn't been as much cleanup duty for Gardner.
"She's still in the same position," Coach Lil Shelton said of Gardner. "I think this year Hayley is just intercepting the ball before it ever gets over to Tara."
Gardner's scoring total may have diminished to 11 this season, but her role has expanded as Shelton has asked her to help control possession by involving herself more in the midfield and on defense. She already has more assists this season (nine) than she did all of last year (eight).
"It doesn't matter who scores on this team," said Gardner, a senior. "We're trying to win. It's just the team's goal to score. I think we just pass it to whomever's open."
Rausch just happens to be the main beneficiary. With her speed, she has fit perfectly into Severna Park's two-forward alignment, which demands the attackers keep constant pressure on the opposing goalkeeper.
The first sign of Rausch's promise came at the end of last season, when she was promoted to varsity for the playoffs and scored the team's lone goal during Severna Park's 2-1 loss to Bethesda-Chevy Chase in the Maryland 3A title game. She hasn't stopped scoring since.
"I really didn't have any expectations. I was just kind of winging it at the beginning," Rausch said. "Everything just kind of happened."