As senior Victoria Tran spoke to reporters Wednesday night, sporting a River Hill girls soccer quarter zip and a state championship medal around her neck, she couldn’t help but think the past four seasons had been building toward this moment.
The Hawks’ had just secured another 2A state championship for the program, shutting out Hereford, 3-0, in the Class 2A final at Loyola University Maryland, and for Tran this one felt like the sweetest of all. It culminated a decorated high school career for her and fellow seniors Carly Wetzel and Megan Chun, who as a trio were four-year starters, two-year captains and now three-time winners on the state’s biggest stage.
They tasted what it felt like to finish on top as freshmen, before suffering an early playoff exit in 2015. Then last year, without a senior starter, they embraced a somewhat underdog role on the way to the program’s state-best 11th title.
And finally this fall, with everyone back, River Hill was once again the favorite and lived up to that expectation with another dominant run that ended with a celebration on the field at the Ridley Athletic Complex.
“Being part of this team has been so amazing, especially to be captains with these two,” Wetzel said while fighting back tears. “They’re like my best friends on and off the field.”
The legacy for these seniors, Chun said, is the same as it’s been for all the River Hill girls soccer state champions that came before them. There’s a tradition, which started with the program’s inaugural title in 1997, that has held true for two decades. When the Hawks make the state final, they win it.
And on Wednesday night, in front of family and friends, these Hawks (17-2) secured their second straight championship and the school’s 12th in as many tries.
“I knew we were going to have a target on our back because we had such a young team last year,” said coach Brian Song, who has led River Hill to a 196-30-8 record during his 13-year tenure. “What they had to go through — every game somebody is on their backs — and knowing how composed they were and just getting better each week and just supporting each other was tremendous.”
To avoid complacency, Wetzel said the Hawks conditioned themselves to remain humble. For their opponents, motivation came naturally. Every team wants knock off the defending state champion.
The Hawks, in response, tried to view every match as their biggest one yet even if it wasn’t. Using that approach, they rolled off 17 straight wins, including an 11-0 record in county play. Then came a five-game postseason roller coaster that featured three routine wins, one close victory and one nail-biting overtime anomaly.
Before the winning streak, though, River Hill did taste defeat — twice. It opened the season with a 3-1 loss to Good Counsel on Sept. 8 and failed to score in a one-goal defeat to McDonogh the next day.
But Song didn’t mind the results. He understood those early-season tests against private schools would bode well for his group come league play and in the playoffs.
After allowing four goals that weekend, the Hawks outscored their county opponents, 49-2, en route to winning their first league crown since 2014. There were scares during that undefeated run, like when Atholton kept the game scoreless into the second half and Mt. Hebron netted the equalizer with about 15 minutes to play. But each time, the Hawks prevailed.
“It’s just being disciplined and knowing how much potential we have,” Chun said. “We lay down the law at our practices and games. We have standards, and I think it’s just a matter of owning up to them.”
Song understands that everyone can’t always meet that level of excellence, but when mistakes happen, he expects his players to pick that teammate up. He then does his part by offering honest assessments of individual and team performances.
Take River Hill’s blowout win over Glenelg in the sectional semifinals, a game in which Song thought Chun’s effort wasn’t up to par with her usual contributions. He let her know, and she immediately responded with two goals in the next game. Her production was all the Hawks needed to win the 2A South, Section I final against Wilde Lake.
Four days later, Chun came through with the game-winning overtime score against Calvert in the regional championship. Still, the Hawks were fortunate to even be in that position. They dominated possession but squandered countless scoring chances and twice slipped while staring at an empty net.
If not for junior Brigette Wang’s equalizer in the final minutes, their season may have ended right there on their home turf.
Before its state semifinal bout, River Hill referenced that near heartbreak with the hopes that it wouldn’t replicate that performance against Fallston. Though not to that extent, the Hawks continued to struggle around the net. Neither team scored in the run of play, and it wasn’t until the 78th minute that Tran’s penalty kick put her team ahead.
But when it mattered most — against Hereford on Wednesday night — River Hill’s offense found its groove.
Less than eight minutes into the game, Wang scored her team-high 20th goal of the season. At the 16:12 mark, Chun ripped a strike off a pass from Tran to put the Hawks up, 2-0. Junior Juliana Grasso then tallied the team’s third score, netting a long lob pass from junior defender Danielle Poindexter.
Similar to their past two state finals, the Hawks did all of their offensive damage before intermission.
“Oh My God, it’s just such a relief,” Tran said about taking the early lead. “It’s really great, and it’s also great just maintaining that lead and shutting them out.”
Tran’s press conference included sighs, laughs and smiles, but she didn’t express those lighthearted gestures immediately after the final buzzer. By nature, she said she’s “pretty emotionless,” even moments after winning her third state championship.
She instead found satisfaction in watching her teammates celebrate. Some of them were jumping up and down. Others, like Chun, Wetzel and senior Cairo Taylor, had tears streaming down their faces.
It simply took a little longer for the moment to hit Tran, especially the realization that this was the final time she would wear a Hawks’ uniform. But, as she sorted through the assortment of emotions and memories, she found comfort in knowing that this group is going out on top.
“I’m so grateful to play with these girls and play on this team and to play under Coach Song,” Train said. “And for me, it’s just satisfaction. We’ve worked so hard for this.”