No one was playing harder than Beth Cornelius. The St. John’s forward churned her legs without pause and swung her stick without fear, anything to help the Cadets defend their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title.
But even with her team leading Good Counsel by a goal and looking strong on both ends Thursday afternoon at O’Connell, St. John’s Coach Corey Samperton needed more from the attacking engine charging down the right side of the field.
“Beth, if I have to light a fire under your skirt, I will!” Samperton yelled during a first-half timeout.
Cornelius responded with her biggest moment of the season. With just over 12 minutes remaining, the junior took a long pass from sophomore Clara Morrison, burned a defender and slotted her shot into the left corner to put the game out of reach. St. John’s repeated as WCAC champions with a 2-0 victory in Arlington, the same margin that put the Cadets over the top against Good Counsel last year.
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The triumph was extra sweet for Cornelius, a transfer from Wootton who experienced a 2-0 defeat against Severna Park in last year’s Maryland state title game. She let that disappointment fester leading into Thursday’s showdown.
“It was so hard for my team last year when we lost,” Cornelius said. “I wanted to do everything to get back to a championship and win it. And that’s what we did.”
St. John’s (12-2 ) fired out of the gate with a quick goal from Morrison. The sophomore attacker slid a low shot that sneaked through the defense and into the left corner to put the Cadets ahead 1:51 into the contest.
Good Counsel (12-4) countered with fierce attacking play from Kayla Rieu and Maggie Ellington , but the Cadets’ defense refused to buckle. Junior goalie Maya Lewis made a handful of critical stops, her best effort coming when she extended her baby blue-padded right leg to thwart Rieu from point-blank range 10 minutes into the second half.
Still, the Cadets weren’t content to absorb pressure and protect their lead. Red-clad players poured into Good Counsel’s half and channeled the mantra of a team that breaks every huddle with “1-2-3, Relentless!”
“You can never sit back when you’re defending a championship,” Samperton said. “You have to keep going.”
At 7:45 a.m. each game day, St. John’s players huddle together with their fruit and granola bars and decide to whom they should dedicate that day’s game. On Thursday, the loudest corner of the cafeteria picked Samperton, the coach who turned an overmatched team with a losing record into back-to-back conference champs. Every player inked their wrists with, “For Corey . . . #backtoback.”
“We’ve won, so we know what it’s like, but now we needed to defend that,” senior defender Maggie Murray said. “Corey’s brought us from nothing to champions back to back.”