Shelly Brezicki helped the young Mavericks emerge from an emotional 2013 season to become a state championship team.
In just their fifth season as a varsity program — all under Brezicki's leadership — the Mavericks earned their first Baltimore Sun Top 15 ranking, won their first Carroll County championship, made their first appearance in the state final four and won their first state championship, 13-10, over Fallston in Class 2A-1A.
Despite starting just three seniors, the No. 8 Mavericks (18-1) were a particularly close team this spring after coming together through tragedy a year ago.
In February 2013, their assistant coach, Devin Spence, was killed in an automobile accident. Three months later Brezicki's brother, volunteer fireman Gene Kirchner, died from injuries suffered in a fire.
"The girls just learned what it meant to be family last year, and they allowed those emotions to go into action for them," Brezicki said. "That family feeling led to them working so well as a team."
Last season, emotions proved overwhelming at times for the Mavericks, who finished 10-5, but they returned this spring with a renewed sense of determination to win the state title for their fallen heroes.
They adopted the motto, "Believe Big," and they never stopped believing.
They started the season 12-0 before suffering their only defeat, a 15-13 loss to No. 3 and Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference finalist Roland Park.
After that, they allowed only eight goals in three regional playoff games. In the state semifinal against Queen Anne's, the Mavericks took a four-goal lead early in the second half only to see the Lions tie the game with about two minutes left. They never stopped believing and Haile Houck won the next draw and set up Lizzie Colson for the 9-8 game winner.
In the state final, they took a five-goal lead and after Fallston rallied to within three, the Mavericks defense took over to secure the title.
"I think the girls really believed in what we were trying to do," Brezicki said. "Sometimes, it's not talent but desire that makes a team really good, and the kids had the desire and they worked really well as a team."
With just three starting seniors — Houck, Sarah Cullison and Katie Walter — the Mavericks relied on young players to fill key roles. Colson, a sophomore, led the team in scoring while freshman Rayna Deltuva led it in assists. In the goal, sophomore Lydia Eichhorst and freshman Kate Brewster split time.
For Brezicki, the key was adapting her game plan to the strengths of her players.
"I make my philosophy meet the ability of my kids and what works for them," she said. "This year we had a lot of changes and I think the changes we put into place worked with the group we had and having them believe in that led to our success. We had a lot of different offensive sets and defensive sets and sometimes at the high school level, it's tough for kids to switch in and out of them in a game or in a play, but these girls were able to do it."
An Owings Mills graduate who played field hockey at Towson University, Brezicki was an assistant coach at Winters Mill before starting the Manchester Valley program. She has a 58-21 career record.