When first-year Pallotti girls soccer coach Maceo Rojas learned that his new team was very young, it tempered his expectations.
“I didn’t know a whole lot,” Rojas said. “We have two seniors and eight freshmen. When I found that out, I figured we were a year or two away from doing anything.”
But the Panthers, with three freshmen starters, exceeded the expectations of their coach this fall.
Pallotti was 12-3 in regular-season play and finished as the second seed in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference.
In the IAAM playoffs, the Panthers defeated Annapolis Area Christian School 2-0 in the quarterfinals on Nov. 1 and followed that with a 3-2 decision over St. John’s Catholic Prep in the semifinals on Nov. 3 in a game decided on penalty kicks.
Pallotti will play top-seeded Park in the championship game on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at Anne Arundel Community College.
Park defeated the Panthers 4-0 on Oct. 6.
Before the playoff run, coach Rojas talked about his regular-season success.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, but I am very happy,” Rojas said.
The coaching transition has gone well and his players are the beneficiaries.
“He definitely knows what he is talking about,” senior defender Madison Hannon. “He is good at relating with kids our age.”
In the first 15 games, the Panthers were led in scoring by sophomore Ayanna Green, who had 21 goals, while freshman Nia Thweatt had nine goals.
Junior Caroline Falcone led the team with 12 assists.
Freshmen twins Lindsay Thweatt and Nia Thweatt are threats on the wings.
The Panthers have won utilizing a fast, exciting brand of soccer and they play as a cohesive unit.
“The girls are a good, strong group. They play well with each other,” Rojas said. “I think we have good speed. The twins on the wings are very fast.”
The two seniors and co-captains are Hannon and Anastasia Barrett.
Barrett has played for three varsity coaches the past three years.
“He is by far the best,” she said of Rojas. “I have gone through a lot of coaches at Pallotti. He really knows what he is doing.”
Rojas said all three freshmen starters also play basketball.
Pallotti’s goalie, Tahlia Brown-Stangherlin, is also a freshman.
“We are all like one big circle, one big family,” Hannon said. “You would think we are all in the same grade.”
Rojas played high school soccer in New York City and then played two years of club soccer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he graduated in 2009.
He now teaches French at Owings Mills High School and was the junior varsity boys coach there before he got the head job at Pallotti.
Does Rojas have a certain coaching style?
“I kind of go with my players. We have fast girls. We score a lot of goals,” said Rojas, whose team scored 36 goals in regular-season play. “We gave up more than I would have liked.”