It wasn't an easy road this fall for the Manchester Valley High School girls' soccer team.
After winning the school's first-ever state championship last fall, the Mavericks endured graduation losses at several key spots, and with a 4-3-2 record at midseason, coach Joe Miller's team was far from a lock to repeat as Class 1A state champions.
At that point, the coach made some lineup changes and watched his charges take off.
A season-ending nine-game winning streak was more than enough to propel the team to a second straight Manchester Valley state championship.
In a rematch of the 2011 title game, the Mavericks posted a 3-1 victory over Brunswick last weekend at UMBC Stadium that kept the Class 1A championship in northern Carroll County.
Miller's squad captured the first state championship in school history last fall with a 4-1 triumph against Brunswick.
The 2012 title game was different. Brunswick's all-state forward, senior Dara Demich, tallied the game's first goal with 16:35 remaining in the opening half.
But it didn't take long for the Mavericks to snare the lead for good. Junior forward Jamie Rickabaugh was fouled inside Brunswick's penalty box, and senior defender Karlyn Warzinski converted the penalty kick.
Rickabaugh, who led all county scorers with 16 goals and two assists, broke the tie with 1:07 left in the half to give the Mavericks their first lead.
"We went in at halftime knowing that if they got one it would be tied up," Rickabaugh said. "We just needed one more to get us off the edge of our seats."
Miller had a simple message for the team at halftime.
"I always tell them that if they don't score again, they don't win," he said. "The name of the game was defense at that point. And we've never lost when we've scored at least two goals.
"I didn't think that the game was going to end at 2-1, so we needed to get a third goal."
Rickabaugh made it happen, scoring a second-half insurance goal that sent the defending champions on their way to another state title.
Manchester Valley controlled the ball for most of the game, and Demich, the leading scorer in Frederick County history, was never a factor after her first-half goal.
"Jamie is a wild-legged kid who just runs and plays hard," Miller said. "One thing that she has improved is beating her defender and going to the goal. Her shot is a rocket, and Jamie got smarter about how to attack the goal. She's a natural goal scorer."
The Mavericks, who finished at 13-3-2, earned the top seed in the Class 1A North Region and received byes in the first two rounds.
That set up a regional semifinal match with archrival North Carroll, and Manchester Valley came away with a hard-fought 1-0 triumph. An 8-0 runaway win over Forestville put the Mavericks in the state semifinals, and they set up the championship rematch against Brunswick with a 4-1 victory over Mardela.
Rickabaugh led the county with 17 goals and two assists, but she was the only Maverick player among the top 10 Carroll scorers.
Senior forward Abbey Dasch was next, with four goals and six assists. A strong defensive effort throughout the playoffs was essential to Manchester Valley's accomplishment.