Crofton girls soccer coach Travis Bonfigli told his team before the season that he believed it had the potential to be a champion.
On Thursday night, the second-seeded Cardinals had the opportunity to make program history. They did exactly that, capturing the program’s first state title with a win 1-0 over No. 4 seed Mt. Hebron in the Class 3A final at Loyola Maryland’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
The Cardinals lost to the Vikings, 1-0, in last year’s state quarterfinal, but got their revenge on the state’s biggest stage.
“I knew going into this year at Crofton and I’ve played alongside Meghan Piazza and Ruby Shoots since I was 8 years old,” Crofton senior Cassidy Nichols said. “We naturally just have this chemistry, so when we came to Crofton sophomore year, we knew that we would light it up and progress until we were seniors. With the help of the classes underneath us and setting a good example for them and the expectations, we knew that we could get here.”
The game didn’t start how No. 6 Crofton would’ve hoped with No. 5 Mt. Hebron controlling pace of play in the opening 20 minutes. The start was very similar to last year’s meeting, in which the Vikings controlled the game much of the way. However, this time Crofton (15-3-1) broke through in the 29th minute.
Facing a stout Mt. Hebron defense that surrendered only five goals entering the state final, the Cardinals knew it would be a challenge to generate scoring chances. They only needed one to make the difference. Shoots delivered a cross into the box that found Piazza. She headed the ball to Nichols, who volleyed it into the back of the net. The three are part of the Cardinals’ inaugural eight-member senior class, which helped spearhead the team’s success this season.
“I knew coming into this game that there weren’t going to be many opportunities and I knew that if I got the chance in the box, that I needed to take advantage of it and score,” Nichols said. “When I saw the ball in the air, I just attacked it.”
Searching for the equalizer, Mt. Hebron (13-3-1) intensified its attack. The Vikings had several opportunities in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. A pair of corner attempts were cleared away, while Leen Jawhar’s shot in the 54th minute sailed just over the bar.
“Getting it out quick, but also as a team just communication,” Shoots said of the keys defensively. “I have a really great group of girls that plays back there with me, my other center back, Nora Synder, she covers me all day. If I have to step, she goes there. It’s really just a connection that we have and working together. It was just sorting out marks, communicating and getting the ball out quickly.”
Running out of time to come back, Mt. Hebron found some of its best scoring chances of the game with just over 10 minutes left. First, Crofton junior goalie Abby Makela dove to stop Maria Brogno’s left-footed shot, and promptly followed that with another strong save on Jawhar’s shot, her two biggest stops of the evening.
“Abby has been unbeatable in goal over the last eight games,” Bonfigli said. “Having her back there, it’s such a comfort. She’s come up big for us multiple times. She’s made some insane saves this year. As a team, we focus so much and tell these girls, ‘Do your job, worry about what you’re doing.’ They all do that and Abby is really good at doing her job.”
Those proved to be Mt. Hebron’s final opportunities of the game. Ten minutes later, the Cardinals were sprinting toward Makela in jubilation. Three years after opening Crofton, the Cardinals achieved their ultimate goal, finishing a dream season with an eighth straight shutout and a state title.
“When it hit two minutes left, I looked at my outside wing, Arya Shah, and we looked at each other and we knew that we just won a state championship,” Piazza said. “Before the whistle even blew, I think we were running right back to Abby.”