As the season has progressed, the No. 7 Severna Park girls soccer team's defense has taken on the identity of its senior goalkeeper, Rachel Vander Kolk.
And in Thursday's playoff game at No. 2 Arundel, the Vander Kolk-led Falcons were at their unflappable best.
After 100 minutes of scoreless play sent the Class 4A East Section I title game to penalty kicks, the Falcons got conversions from Abby Thomas and Murphy Atwell, and Vander Kolk made one final big save, her ninth of the game, to send Severna Park past the Wildcats with a 2-1 edge in the shootout.
Severna Park (14-3) will meet the winner of Friday's Section II final between No. 8 South River and No. 3 Broadneck in Tuesday's region final. The senior-laden Wildcats, who won the Anne Arundel County tournament championship, finished 14-2-1 this season.
Throughout the game, the Falcons surrendered considerable territory to the Wildcats' persistent attack, but no goals. Junior central defender Madison Scheimreif also played a big role in the win.
In the five-round penalty-kick shootout, the Falcons got all the goals they needed on their first two chances, with Thomas and Atwell scoring. Vander Kolk dived to her left to make one save, and the Wildcats were off the mark on three other chances. Allison Shaner scored their only goal.
Asked what has made the Falcons a special team this season, Vander Kolk, a captain in her third varsity season, didn't hesitate.
"Everything," she answered.
"The chemistry that we have this year is unmatched. I've never felt it on any team that I've played on or played against, and it's really helped us get through. We all really know how to connect with each other."
The Wildcats, who defeated the Falcons, 1-0, in their regular-season meeting, connected plenty of passes playing their precise possession game, but the Falcons continually limited their time and space close to goal. In particular, Arundel dominated the first 10-minute overtime period but was unable to finish any chances. Senior forward Clarissa Kirsch-Downs hit a blistering shot from 22 yards that went just high. Becky Frost also received a through ball from Kirsch-Downs on the right, but Vander Kolk saved her near-post shot. Shaner had a chance, too, that Vander Kolk saved.
"They played beautiful tonight. The the girls looked so good," Arundel coach Laura Coe said.
"Unfortunately, luck was not on our side today with the shots. We had some great opportunities in the first overtime, but it's OK. We're proud of them. They had a fantastic season, and somebody had to come away a winner and, unfortunately, it wasn't us."
twitter.com/GlennGrahamSunCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun