On paper, Oakdale and Marriotts Ridge had identical 16-2 records. On the field, Tuesday’s Class 3A/2A state championship game wasn’t close in what can best be described as a contest of youth vs. experience.
Marriotts Ridge’s experience on the big stage at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County helped the Mustangs win, 18-5. It is the program’s third state title in four years.
Oakdale, a Frederick County school, opened four years ago fielding only a junior varsity team. The team this year has just four seniors compared to nine for Marriotts Ridge.
And, using that wealth of experience, Marriotts Ridge dominated from the beginning. The Mustangs came up with all but one draw in the first half and their defense held Oakdale scoreless in the half.
“We came out hard. We wanted a running clock,” said Marriotts Ridge senior Taylor Hensh. The recently named Under Armour All-American led her team with five goals and an assist.
Teammate Marissa Davey also netted five goals.
The Mustangs had a 10-goal lead and a running clock with 8 minutes left in the first half. By halftime, their advantage was 12-0.
“We’ve never played a team of that caliber,” said Oakdale goalkeeper Melissa Semkiw. “But we just kept fighting and working together. I saw nothing but players who wanted to win and who wanted to be there.”
After a motivational halftime speech from its coach Beth Nave, Oakdale had a stronger presence in the second half.
“I told them they had to be more physical, more emotional and more mental because our hope is that we can come back here again and without the experience of coming back from behind and improving our play we would have no hope of doing that,” Nave said.
Sara Parnes and Carly Heine scored early in the second half to cut into Marriotts Ridge’s lead.
“We knew it was our last 25 minutes together and we knew we probably weren’t going to come back (and win) but we wanted to give them a good fight,” said Oakdale’s Emma Bowman.
The Marriotts Ridge seniors also knew it was their last 25 minutes on the field together.
“We wanted to go home with it all. That was a big motivation,” Alexis Zadjura said. “There are nine of us and we wanted a state title and we got it.”
Like all teams, Marriotts Ridge began the season with team goals. Beat top-ranked McDonogh was one of them — that didn’t happen — and a one-goal loss to arch rival Mt. Hebron meant no county title either.
As the defending state champion, the Marriotts Ridge players knew they entered the season with a target on their backs and that after graduating six players, including three-time Player of the Year Zoe Stukenberg, there was a different mix on the field.
Not only that, there was a coaching change. Natalie Gaieski, the team’s head coach since Marriotts Ridge opened in 2006, switched positions with assistant Amanda Brady.
While most of the changes were seamless, there were ups and downs as the team chemistry developed.
“The team bonding really helped us a lot. Getting to know everyone off the field helped us on the field,” said Zadjura.
“The turning point in the season was where we all got together and knew what we had to do and we did it,” Carly Miller said.
There was a point midseason when the team reset its focus.
“They didn’t want to be like that team from 2012 that didn’t make it (to the state championships). That was a big motivator for us,” Brady said.
When the playoffs began, Marriotts Ridge found itself in the most difficult section in the state. The six teams in Section I of the 3A/2A South region, had a combined 29 state championships. No other section in the entire tournament was as stacked and that meant there was little room for a bad game.
“Our motto was: it’s the playoffs and anything can happen. There are upsets, there are comebacks and we were in a tough section. We knew we were going to have to bring it (every game) because nobody wants to go home at that point,” Brady said.
The Mustangs withstood all challenges, winning their sectional final over Century, 8-7, the regional final over River Hill, 13-10, and then the state semifinal over Hereford, 19-3, before Tuesday’s victory over Oakdale.
How do you compare state titles?
Some players on the team say the title their freshman year (2011) was the best.
“There’s nothing to compare to that feeling. It was so exciting,” Hensh said.
But there was also a satisfying sweetness to the most recent state title.
“This one was something special because we won our last game,” Davey said. “We will never be on the field together again. We’ll go off (to college) with a win and that’s real awesome.”
Marriotts Ridge finished its season 17-2 overall.
Marriotts Ridge 18, Oakdale 5
Goals: MR — Taylor Hensh 5, Marissa Davey 5, Lexi Souder 3, Carly Miller 2, Jenna Kerr, Maria Plano. O — Carly Heine 2, Emma Bowman 2, Sara Parnes.
Assists: MR — Carly Miller 3, Jenna Kerr 2, Taylor Hensh. O — Emma Bowman.
Saves: MR — Rachel Ortell 3. O — Melissa Semkiw 7.
Halftime: Marriotts Ridge, 12-0.