Howard senior goalie Marisa Grant knew that when the playoffs started, it was the big-time. It was time to step up.
In uncharted territory, Grant and the Lions stepped up again on Saturday night, beating Anne Arundel County champion South River, 2-0, to advance to the 4A state final for the first time in program history.
“They became a whole ‘nother team when the playoffs came,” said Howard coach Bali Boule. “The intensity factor, they just have brought it to every single game. I’m feeling like everything we did in the season is for something.”
The Lions (12-4) have played their best soccer of the year in the last four games. Grant said after avenging a playoff loss to Sherwood in the regional semifinals, momentum started to build.
“We’re planting a seed,” Boule said. “This is my first year. I plan on being here for a good amount of time and we’re serious. ... The talent we get at Howard, this could be the potential every year.”
The first-year coach foreshadowed this moment before the season started. She had a feeling this team was going to accomplish what no other team in program history had achieved.
“There was a day before the season even started I said to myself, ‘I’m doing it, we’re doing it.’” Boule said. “At the beginning of the season I said to them, ‘I’m going to bring it everyday, I need you to bring it everyday.’ ... This is what I wanted.”
The Lions dominated from the opening whistle until the final horn.
Senior Nia Elbeck scored her 17th goal of the season and fourth of the playoffs after a give-and-go from midfield. She touched the ball past the outstretched arms of Seahawks junior goalie Emily Proctor and into the right corner for a 1-0 lead in the 5th minute.
Howard struck again in the 30th minute, this time with Elbeck on the giving end.
After she dribbled past two defenders, her through-ball found junior Sarah Cocozza on the right side inside the box. Her perfectly placed floating shot over Proctor into the upper-left part of the goal gave Howard a two-goal edge.
“That was probably the best game I’ve ever seen Nia play,” Boule said.
But it was the defense that made the game look easy. South River had few opportunities to score as the Lions defense swarmed to the ball inside their third.
“My defense is a good little unit,” Boule said. “South River had some serious, serious skill. So defense (and) midfield did a good job of shutting them down.”
The Lions have outscored their four-playoff opponents 9-1, allowing only a last-second goal to Catonsville in the regional final.
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