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The Freedom Blaze ripped through its competition in the under-11 Bronze Division. The girls swept all four of their games by a combined score of 12-1 to take the championship.
The Freedom Blaze ripped through its competition in the under-11 Bronze Division. The girls swept all four of their games by a combined score of 12-1 to take the championship. (Courtesy photo)

A student can struggle right up to the end of their course. But if they ace the final examination, they can sometimes pass with flying colors.

That's what happened to the Freedom Blaze under-11 girls soccer team this year. It had a poor season, record-wise, until the very end. But the local girls made up for all of their year's frustrations at the 25th Annual Fallston Cup tournament of Nov. 9-11.

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The Blaze ripped through its competition in the under-11 Bronze Division. The girls swept all four of their games by a combined score of 12-1 to take the championship.

They passed their year with flying colors.

There were a lot of different faces this year — six of the 12 players were new. Coach Austin Groves was also new.

A first decision was to move the team from the Central Maryland Soccer Association to the EDP.

“EDP was more challenging.It has a higher skill level, and more technically-sound teams,” he said.

Groves and assistant Chris Gleason needed to decide where to position the players and what kind of substitution pattern they would use. August’s Freedom Scrimmagefest soccer tournament helped him to do that.

However, it took a good while for the girls to learn how to play their positions. They also had to learn when to move out of those positions to support the front line when it had a chance to score or protect the goal when it was threatened.

It took them awhile to learn these things. Meanwhile, the course was rough.

Late in August, they went 0-3-1 in the Gettysburg Battlefield Blast and were then 1-2-1 in early October’s River Soccer Club tournament. They would go 2-5 in EDP.

But while they were losing, the players were also learning and improving.

“We could see each week that they were progressing and not going backward,” Groves said. “By the end of the year, the games were nip and tuck instead of their being beaten good the way they were, earlier.”

That brought on the final tournament of the year, the Fallston Cup. This would be the final exam.

In the opening game, Freedom beat Catonsville 1-0 on a late goal by center back Corinne Roberts.

While the match was buffeted by 20 mph winds and chilled by below-freezing weather, the winners overcame the wind by keeping the ball on the ground.

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Additionally, goalies Katie Collins and Maria Gleason and their defenders stifled the Catonsville attack.

The second game was a tight, back-and-forth affair played in the same kind of chilly weather. However, the Blaze prevailed and won a 3-2 squeaker over the Lutherville-Timonium Soccer Club.

Freedom’s Emma Zinkand scored the clincher in the final minutes with a shot from about 16 yards out.

That made the Blaze 2-0, and the kids were suddenly on their best roll of the year. Their coach noticed a change in their faces before Sunday’s games began.

“You could see the belief in their eyes after those first two games,” Groves said. “They didn’t hope they could win the last two games. They knew it.”

His Blaze then proceeded to dismantle their final two opponents. Freedom won an easy third game, 4-0 over the Hereford Spirit. The back line of Leah Tombs, Roberts and Madi VonStein stopped all of Hereford’s offensive thrusts.

The Blaze midfield unit of Abby Gehring, Melina Peacock, Victoria Barnett, Collins, and Zinkand served a dual role, screening out the Hereford offense and getting the ball to the forwards. The offense, which included Mary Katherine Groves, Gleason and Charlotte Lewis took those passes from midfield to reach their highest goal output of the year.

Taylor Hoffman played both defense and midfield but broke her foot several weeks ago and was unable toplay. However, the youngster remained a sidelines supporter throughout the tournament.

The final game was against the Southeast Soccer Club Storm, and Freedom again tossed a shutout, this by 3-0. The Blaze again controlled the game at midfield, and the defense was impregnable.

Groves explained that the two Sunday games were their best of the year. The girls realized that, too.

“When it was over it was complete elation,” Groves said. “(The championship) was a vindication of our entire soccer season. They proved to themselves how good they could be.”

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