As the Atholton girls soccer team possessed the ball late in the first half against Reservoir on Tuesday night, each coach had a different opinion on how the game had progressed.
Gators coach Phil Ranker, who lost several of his starters from a year ago, was content with his team’s effort. His players cheered on the sideline, excited to have played to a scoreless draw with last season’s county champion. Atholton coach Stephanie Stoutenborough, meanwhile, grew frustrated with her group’s sloppy performance.
But each manager’s attitude shifted shortly after seeing Atholton forward Catalina Lennon receive a pass near the top of the box. As she did against Century in the Raiders’ season-opening win on Sept. 7, Lennon chipped her shot over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. The first of Lennon’s two goals provided the spark, while her next strike gave Atholton a comfortable advantage in an eventual 2-0 victory in both teams’ county opener.
“That’s kind of a back-breaker emotionally to give up one with  seconds left,” Ranker said, “especially when you feel like you were the aggressor for a large chunk of the first half.”
For the opening 15 minutes, Reservoir (0-1 county, 3-1 overall) looked a team with only two seniors and an entirely new starting midfield. While Atholton (1-0, 2-0) didn’t produce a shot on goal, it lived in the Gators’ defensive third. Eventually, it seemed, one of the Raiders’ talented veterans would score.
But neither of their all-county players — seniors Adrienne Vaughn and Victoria Huxtable — could break through.
“We weren’t talking to each other, we weren’t moving, we weren’t winning 50/50 balls,” Stoutenborough said.
Reservoir was holding its own without midfielder Kylie Toler — last season’s Howard County Player in the Year. And it was doing so in large part because of a freshman who Ranker believes could be in contention for the award as early as next season.
Whenever midfielder/forward Katherin Parris possessed the ball, Ranker said, she held on to it. She was able to consistently transition the ball from the defensive end into the attacking third, helping the Gators attempt four shots on goal in the first half. They couldn’t score on goalkeeper Bryce Bathras (six saves) but seemed to put themselves in position to take the lead after the halftime.
Then, with one touch, Lennon halted that momentum.
“Just taking the one-touch shots,” Lennon said. “Just taking every shot is what made that happen.”
Minutes into the second half, Lennon received a pass from Huxtable and against didn’t hesitate to shoot. The attempt got by freshman goalie Lizzie Dudzinski (nine saves), quickly doubling the Raiders lead. Reservoir, despite pressing during the later stages of the contest, couldn’t muster a goal in its first defeat of the year.
Ranker’s postgame speech barely touched on the defeat, instead focusing on how they stuck with one the county’s top contenders early in the season. He assured his girls they’d see Atholton in the playoffs.
Tuesday tested the Gators, and they met the challenge.
Stoutenborough comments after the game, though, included the words “sloppy” and “careless” and warned against performing like that going forward. Against Howard County teams, she said, that level of play will result in defeat more times than not.
Despite opening the county slate with the win, Atholton has plenty to improve on according to their 16th-year coach.
“It was a game I would like to forget,” Stoutenborough said.