It wasn't an easy road this fall for the Manchester Valley High School girls' soccer team.
After winning the school's first-ever state championship last fall, the Mavericks endured graduation losses at several key spots, and with a 4-3-2 record at midseason, coach Joe Miller's team was far from a lock to repeat as Class 1A state champions.
At that point, the coach made some lineup changes and watched his charges take off.
A season-ending nine-game winning streak was more than enough to propel the team to a second straight Manchester Valley state championship.
In a rematch of the 2011 title game, the Mavericks posted a 3-1 victory over Brunswick last weekend at UMBC Stadium that kept the Class 1A championship in northern Carroll County.
Miller's squad captured the first state championship in school history last fall with a 4-1 triumph against Brunswick.
The 2012 title game was different. Brunswick's all-state forward, senior Dara Demich, tallied the game's first goal with 16:35 remaining in the opening half.
But it didn't take long for the Mavericks to snare the lead for good. Junior forward Jamie Rickabaugh was fouled inside Brunswick's penalty box, and senior defender Karlyn Warzinski converted the penalty kick.
Rickabaugh, who led all county scorers with 16 goals and two assists, broke the tie with 1:07 left in the half to give the Mavericks their first lead.
"We went in at halftime knowing that if they got one it would be tied up," Rickabaugh said. "We just needed one more to get us off the edge of our seats."
Miller had a simple message for the team at halftime.
"I always tell them that if they don't score again, they don't win," he said. "The name of the game was defense at that point. And we've never lost when we've scored at least two goals.
"I didn't think that the game was going to end at 2-1, so we needed to get a third goal."
Rickabaugh made it happen, scoring a second-half insurance goal that sent the defending champions on their way to another state title.
Manchester Valley controlled the ball for most of the game, and Demich, the leading scorer in Frederick County history, was never a factor after her first-half goal.
"Jamie is a wild-legged kid who just runs and plays hard," Miller said. "One thing that she has improved is beating her defender and going to the goal. Her shot is a rocket, and Jamie got smarter about how to attack the goal. She's a natural goal scorer."
The Mavericks, who finished at 13-3-2, earned the top seed in the Class 1A North Region and received byes in the first two rounds.
That set up a regional semifinal match with archrival North Carroll, and Manchester Valley came away with a hard-fought 1-0 triumph. An 8-0 runaway win over Forestville put the Mavericks in the state semifinals, and they set up the championship rematch against Brunswick with a 4-1 victory over Mardela.
Rickabaugh led the county with 17 goals and two assists, but she was the only Maverick player among the top 10 Carroll scorers.
Senior forward Abbey Dasch was next, with four goals and six assists. A strong defensive effort throughout the playoffs was essential to Manchester Valley's accomplishment.
Senior goalkeeper Olivia Kipe was forced to make just two saves in the title game, a testament to a defensive unit that surrendered just two goals in the postseason.
"I wasn't worried about repeating," said Miller, who has guided Manchester Valley to both state titles. "But I never really shoot for states until we're in the regional playoffs. I felt that if we did our thing and we played competitively, things would take care of themselves."
Building a repeat
The Maverick players began building for their run during informal "open fields" summer sessions at Cape Horn Park.
But Manchester Valley, which tied for second in the county standings with Westminster at 5-1-1 just a year after finishing 3-4, didn't look too far ahead in its quest.
"I don't think any of us thought we'd be there again," said senior midfielder Alex Carhart. "We wanted to get back, but first we focused on being county champs. We went game-by-game, and just aimed to win each one."
The Mavericks started the season the way they ended the last one, with a 5-1 win over Brunswick in the season opener. Their confidence was boosted even further by a 3-1 regular-season win over North Carroll.
"We had never even scored on them before," said Carhart. "Once we beat them, we had the feeling that we could (win another title)."
After the Mavericks finished just a game behind champion Century in a fierce county title race, it wasn't long before the Manchester Valley bus was pulling up to UMBC Stadium.
A year earlier, the girls had been in awe of the state championship site. This time, they felt the same excitement, tempered by confidence.
"Last year, the bus driver was tickled because we were all wide-eyed when we got off the bus," Warzinski said. "We were the new team, and had never been there before. This year, it was still a thrill, but a whole new game for us."
Carhart admitted that the team felt more pressure than last year, partly because they were the defending state champs. Immediately before their title-game matchup, the Railroaders' boys team had won the Class 1A state title and the Brunswick fans were getting loud.
But the early-season win over Brunswick, plus the support of the Mavericks' large and vocal fan base, built Manchester Valley's confidence.
"Our fans were so great," Warzinski said. "There was so much support, and it gave us a great feeling. It felt like the whole school was there. "
The Mavericks' resolve was tested early when Brunswick scored the game's first goal.
"That was a wake-up call," said Warzinski. "Everyone took a step back after that first goal, and realized that it wasn't going to be handed to us."
But three straight goals put Brunswick away, and sent Carhart and Warzinski out as two-time state champions. Carhart will play lacrosse at Mount St. Mary's, while Warzinski plans to attend either James Madison, Maryland or Towson.
"It's indescribable," said Warzinski, who competed in her final soccer game but will play lacrosse for the Mavericks next spring. "I would never have envisioned this in a million years.
"Just playing with these girls that I've grown up with and developing those relationships, I love every single one of them.
"Whether we won the championship two years in a row or didn't win at all, I would never trade the time that I've spent here," she said.
Miller considered the many hours that he spent coaching this group of seniors as time well-spent.
"You're not going to find nicer girls than Alex and Carlyn," he said. "All of the seniors were just good leaders and nice kids."
While Manchester Valley has earned consecutive championships, it appears that more titles could be coming. Rickabaugh will be back for her third varsity season. Also returning are several freshmen that were key contributors this year, including Desi Rill, Lizzie Colson, Jamie Rienhimer and Nicki Miller.
Rienhimer assisted on one of Rickabaugh's goals in the title game, and Colson came back from a broken wrist to score three times in the Mavericks' state semifinal victory.
They will be joined by several members of a jayvee team that went undefeated this fall.
"Our soccer program is going to be great for at least the next couple of years," Carhart said.