The Catonsville girls soccer team spent most of Saturday's Class 4A state title game valiantly defending against talented Walt Whitman's persistent attack.
Eventually, it became too big a burden.
For more than 70 minutes, the No. 5 Comets turned away everything the Vikings from Montgomery County sent their way, protecting their goal with stubborn determination and poise. But Walt Whitman finally broke through with two goals in the final eight minutes — both on headers by senior forward Anna Gurney — to come away with a 2-0 win over Catonsville at UMBC Stadium.
It's the second state title and first since 2004 for the Vikings, who finish 16-1-1. For the Comets, making their first championship game appearance and second trip to the state tournament, it was a difficult end to the program's finest season. The loss ended a 16-game winning streak as they finished with a 17-2 record that included Baltimore County and North region titles.
"This is not where we wanted to be, but the accomplishments of this team are not to be dismissed," Catonsville 12-year coach James Fitzpatrick said. "Sixteen wins in a row, a 17-win season were two things that had never been done before. I told them all year long they were the best team I ever coached.
"We were prepared for Whitman, we thought we were ready and for about 70 minutes or so, we were hanging tough with them. They're a very good team and they should be commended for their accomplishment. But I think our accomplishment is significant for us as a program and significant for the Catonsville community."
The Vikings, featuring fve players with college commitments, played a composed possession game aimed at getting the ball wide to the flanks before sending crosses to the middle. Through the first 72 minutes, Catonsville, led by sophomore sweeper Lauren Vogelpohl and senior defenders Anna Higdon and Katie Viets, cleared everything the Vikings sent in front.
The Comets relied on counter attacks and set pieces taken by Higdon, who took seven corner kicks and a couple other free kicks, but weren't able to find the final connection to score.
In the end, Walt Whitman's attack was a little better than the Comets' defense.
When the Vikings earned their eighth corner kick, senior midfielder Aliza Wolfe served a ball to the middle — just far enough away from goalie Lauren McDonald (seven saves) — for Gurney to head home for the game-winner with 8 minutes left. Gurney then made it 2-0 with 4:46 to play off a cross sent in by sophomore Kristen Bissell. When both goals were scored, Vogelpohl — the defensive standout throughout the game — wasn't on the field. She was sent off with a yellow card with 10 minutes to play and, after returning, had to leave a second time with an injury.
Fitzpatrick said not having Vogelpohl in the pivotal minutes played a significant role in the outcome.
"I just think it says how important Lauren is to us — keeping us organized in the back and cleaning up the problems. We just had a little bit of a breakdown on the corner in terms of our marking [on the first goal]," he added.
With 14 underclassmen on the roster, including 21-goal scorer Jennifer Nonn, the Comets' future is promising. Nonn said the team now knows what it takes to get to the state title game, and more importantly, knows it can get there. When asked when she will start thinking about next year, she quickly responded: "I'm thinking about it now."
Goals: WW – Gurney 2
Assists: WW – Wolfe, Bissell
Saves: C – McDonald 7; WW – McClanahan 3
Half: 0-0Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun