It’s said that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. After its run through this year’s playoffs, culminating in a 2-1 victory over Hereford in the 3A state championship game Saturday evening, Atholton would certainly attest to that.
The Raiders raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first half and then their defense did the rest, holding off the Bulls down the stretch at Washington College to capture the program’s first state title.
“Our motto this week was ‘let’s put a [championship] ring on it,’ ” Atholton’s Kelly McQuilkin said. “So we told each other that we were winning it in regulation, we are not going into overtime.
“From day one she [coach Martie Dyer] said that the state championship is our goal and that has been in our mindset the whole season.”
In her first year as coach, Dyer inherited a team that had graduated just two seniors from last fall. Making a couple positional changes and tinkering with a little game strategy, she helped lead the way to a historic finish.
Rachel Day, who played a role in both of Atholton’s goals against Hereford, was one of the most notable changes. Moving up from defense to offense, she finished the season as the team’s leading scorer (21 goals) and accounted for a goal and an assist in the championship.
“Day’s offensive spirit is contagious and that really got everybody going,” Dyer said.
After a relatively slow start Saturday, where Hereford controlled possession, Atholton settled in and got on the board first.
Day passed the ball to Briana Stine, who converted with 12 minutes to play in the first half.
After a Hereford timeout, Day helped Atholton strike again. Just over two minutes after Stine’s goal, Day converted an unassisted to score to make it 2-0.
Raider goalie Emily Clinch (11 saves) came up with a pair of huge stops on Hereford corners in the final minutes of the first half to preserve the two-goal cushion.
To begin the second half, though, Hereford continued applying the pressure. Three minutes out of the break the Bulls were awarded a penalty corner and, after Clinch made a diving save, Hereford’s Mary Claire Abbott ended up cutting the Atholton lead in half.
The Bulls’ Maddie Hoover had collected the rebound off Clinch and fed Abbott for the goal.
“I thought that we played a great game the first half but it wasn’t enough so we stepped up our game the second half, which we did beautifully,” Hereford coach Tammy Mundie said.
Hereford kept pushing and actually appeared to have tied the game halfway through the period but the goal was waived off. Later, with time ticking down in regulation, Hereford made one final push, but simply couldn’t get the equalizer.
“We’ve learned on defense that we just need to channel them and wait for the rest of our team to get back so that we can have our full strength on defense,” Atholton defender Sheila O’Malley said.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Atholton stormed the field and celebrated.
“They are wonderful girls,” Dyer said. “They all get along so well and constantly compliment each other. I’ve never had a team this nice to each other.”
Atholton 2, Hereford 1 (3A State Championship)
Goals: A: Stine, Day H: MC Abbott
Assists: A: Day H: Hoover
Saves: A: Clinch 11 H: Lynch 8