At the end of a county championship game between two undefeated programs that fittingly went the distance, being battle tested went a long way for visiting Reservoir Thursday evening.
The Gators, who were coming off another three-set thriller in the county tournament semifinals against Marriotts Ridge, used its experience in tight games to their advantage on the way to securing a 2-1 victory over the Lions and the program’s first county title since 2007.
“Knowing what it felt like to have to get into a third game and finish absolutely helped us tonight,” Reservoir coach Carole Ferrante said. “Being able to think back on those pressure moments, there’s no substitute for that. And in a lot of ways that Marriotts Ridge match yesterday was a great lead up to this. ... We were more prepared for what we needed to do. Howard had some great plays, some great hits and smart decisions, but my girls wouldn’t give up.
“Having been through those battles gave them that little something extra they needed to become county champions.”
Howard (10-1), which hung tough the entire evening, came in having not dropped a set all season. That changed with the Lions falling short, 26-24, in the first set of the title game against Reservoir (10-0).
As a testament to their resiliency, however, Howard bounced back to win the second set 27-25 and create the winner-take-all third frame. Ultimately, Reservoir prevailed by a score of 15-11, but not without plenty of tense moments.
“I think that was the greatest game that we could ask for in terms of a championship match,” Howard coach Allison Ose said. “Reservoir is a great team, and I have to give it to them. We were right there fighting with them the whole time, and I was so proud of us for never giving up. We saw it every set, we fought back from everything they threw at us. We just fell a little short at the end.”
As the last ball sailed long in the third set, setting off a wild celebration on the court, Reservoir senior Kayla Browne (five kills, two blocks) said she could hardly believe her eyes.
“I wasn’t ready for it at all,” Browne said. “...I was honestly shocked that it was really over. We had really done it. We had always had this goal of putting a banner on the wall, but now that it has actually happened, it is just like ‘Wow.’”
The match started off as a seesaw affair with the two teams trading leads in the early stages of the first set. But Reservoir made the first big push in the middle of the frame on the serve of Navleen Kaur (two aces) and some big swings by Kelsey Holmes (13 kills), opening up a 19-11 advantage.
Just as quickly, however, Howard answered back to tie it at 21. There were three more ties after that before Reservoir eventually won two straight points to take the set.
The second set followed a similar script with Reservoir jumping ahead and Howard battling back to create a tie game multiple times in the latter stages. Only this time, Howard made the plays to come out on top and extend the match.
“I kept telling them every time we came together that we were right there, that I believed in them and that we just needed to enjoy this opportunity,” Ose said. “Our mentality was to simply leave it all out there, and that’s what we did. They rose to the occasion.”
In between sets, with Howard suddenly riding high on momentum, Reservoir effectively reset itself to the point where the Gators immediately responded by opening the third set on a 5-1 run.
“A lot of the players on the court, including myself, needed to just take an extra second and come together to focus on fixing the small mistakes,” said Reservoir junior Jessica Rothermel, who finished with a match-high 23 assists. “We had a few too many errors in the second set that cost us, but we knew that we were so close. So it was just a matter of settling down and doing what we had to do to win.”
Reservoir increased its advantage to 10-4 and then held off a few more Howard rallies before securing the four-point victory. Ferrante praised the play of her captains in the big moments.
“I give it all to my leaders, my captains,” Ferrante said. “I can run a practice, I can be on the bench telling them what to do, but they are the ones on the court controlling what is happening in the play. Without players out there getting vocal and leading like we had today, we don’t win a match like this. These kids jumped in and seized the moment.
“As a coach, there’s no better feeling than watching them play like they did in the big moments today.”
The Mustangs (7-4) swept the Eagles (6-4) in the third-place game of the Howard County tournament. Olivia Kuznetosva and Rhisen Davis both tallied five kills, while Brenna O’Reilly registered six aces, 14 assists and 17 digs.
Centennial stats: Abi Griffin (3 kills), Grace Chan (2 kills), Holli Kraisser (2 kills) and Kendall Kreidel (2 kills).
Glenelg def. Long Reach — 2-0 [25-16, 25-14]
The Gladiators (3-4) swept the Lightning (2-9) in the consolation contest. Glenelg’s Mackenzie Calhoun, Gabby Tolbert and Gracen Alsheimer combined for 18 kills, while Lindsey Kelley tallied 22 assists.
Long Reach stats: Hayley Norton (8 assists, 4 digs), Mia Rubio (1 assist, 7 digs), Kailey Young (1 ace, 5 kills, 4 digs)
River Hill def. Mt. Hebron — 2-0 [25-15, 25-15]
The Hawks (6-3) swept the Vikings (4-5) to finish the season on a two-game winning streak. Sydney Shin and Molly Xu helped lead the way in the victory with 10 assists apiece.
River Hill stats: Merina Billey (5 kills), Abby Chicorelli (5 kills), Shreeni Chikyala (5 kills, 2 blocks), Grace Leska (3 kills, 8 digs), Brooke Laumann (8 digs), Christina Lui (3 kills), Logan Maxwell (5 digs), Sydney Shin (10 Assists, 1 Kill, 3 digs) and Molly Xu (10 Assists, 3 Aces, 2 digs).
No. 9 Marriotts Ridge 3, No. 4 Howard 3 (4-1 Marriotts Ridge in penalty kicks)
The Mustangs continued their Cinderella run in the county tournament with the thrilling victory over the Lions (5-5). After going to overtime and neither team scoring in the two 10-minute periods, No. 9 Marriotts Ridge (5-5) won the penalty-kick shootout 4-1 to top Howard (5-5) and advance to the county championship against No. 2 Centennial on Friday.
After winning just twice in the team’s seven regular-season games, the Mustangs have now rattled off three straight wins to reach the title game. The first victory came against Atholton (2-1), and the second was a 2-1 quarterfinal win in overtime to hand top-seeded Mt. Hebron its first loss.
“The key in any season is when you get to the playoffs, can you play your best? And the way this tournament ended up being set up and letting all 12 teams get in, we felt like we had a chance to finally reach our potential,” Marriotts Ridge coach Quinn Khouri said. “For the boys to be really finding their stride at the right time is so exciting. We’re not playing perfect soccer, but we’re playing well enough to win, and that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
Marriotts Ridge got a pair of goals from Kaden Bryan and a score from William Song on the way to establishing a 3-1 lead by the midway point of the second half. But Howard rallied and eventually tied the score courtesy of a penalty kick by Robbie Ryerson — his second goal of the game — with 8:16 left in regulation.
Neither team scored again the rest of the second half or in either of the two overtime periods to set up the penalty-kick shootout. Howard’s first shooter had his attempt glance off the post, and Marriotts Ridge goalie Zachary Sloan later made a save on the Lions’ third attempt.
Meanwhile, Marriotts Ridge’s shooters made good on all their attempts. Bryan, Song, Erik Valdesuso and Cody Blessing all found the net to create the final 4-1 margin.
“The game has got to end some way, and that’s why we do PKs, but it’s tough. It’s really not soccer,” Howard coach Nils Schroder said. “It really comes down to a game of inches. Our first shot hits two posts and bounces out, and then on their first shot if our goalie Luke punches it an inch higher it hits the crossbar and stays out. Flip those two things, and who knows what happens.
“But Marriotts Ridge played a good game, and they are a good team. We were so tired by the time we got to PKs because we went so hard leading up to that point.”
Goals: MR — Kaden Bryan 2, Williams Song; Ho — Robbie Ryerson 2, Ryan Hartlove.
Assists: MR — Bryan, Robby Groman, Misha Ott; Ho — Viktor Struck.
No. 2 Centennial 1, No. 3 River Hill 1 — (4-2 Centennial in penalty kicks)
The Wildecats (4-7) end their season with two straight victories after the consolation triumph over the Lightning (3-7). Tyriq Umrani scored and had an assist in Wilde Lake’s win, while Desmond Adeyemi and Liam Nesbitt also scored for the Wildecats.
The Gators (6-4) got out to a 2-0 lead early and hung on to win the close consolation contest over the Scorpions (3-8). After Oakland Mills battled back to tie the game 2-2, Nathan Macek scored the game-winner in the second half off an assist from Theo Akuffo.
Atholton 3, Glenelg 2 2OT
Goals: Re — Mang Tuang, Walid Urbina, Nathan Macek. OM — N/A.
Assists: Re — Jacob Kaplan, Noah Gantt, Theo Akuffo. OM — N/A.
No. 2 Reservoir 2, No. 3 Mt. Hebron 1
The Gators earned revenge with the narrow win over the Vikings in the semifinals of the county tournament. Mt. Hebron (7-2) defeated Reservoir (9-1) its first loss on the last play date of the regular season, but goals from Sophie Davidson and Kat Parris propelled the Gators into the county title game Friday at home against surging No. 5 Glenelg, which is coming off back-to-back penalty-kick wins.
The second-seeded Gators came out firing, but a slick save from Hebron goalie Claire Fitzsimmons (seven saves) kept the score tied through most of the first half. However, with one minute left until halftime, Davidson, one of the fastest players in the county, scored off a hustle play as a ball bounced free in the middle of the pitch. Reservoir doubled its advantage with a goal from Kat Parris off a free kick from Gabbie Chapman midway through the second half. The third-seeded Vikings cut its deficit in half with six seconds remaining with a goal off a corner kick, but they weren’t able to press up field fast enough to score again.
Goals: Re — Sophie Davidson, Kat Parris; MH — N/A.
Assists: Re — Gabbie Chapman, Avery Oergel; MH — N/A.
The Gladiators continued their Cinderella run in the county tournament with the penalty-shootout win over the top-seeded Mustangs. No. 5 Glenelg, which also beat River Hill in PKs in the quarterfinals last week, advances to the county title game against No. 2 Reservoir on Friday.
Both teams played fast and stout defense for the scoreless tie through 100 minutes. Glenelg (7-3-1) dominated possession in the second overtime, but Marriotts Ridge (8-1-1) thwarted the Gladiators advances. Sarah Lathrop, as in the River Hill game, calmly hit her PK to start Glenelg’s scoring after a Marriotts Ridge penalty kick was knocked down by Kendall Castor. Tegan Swope and Carlin Costell then scored PKs for Glenelg, while Megan Wagner, Giavana Liberto and Bridget Ford found the back of the net for the Mustangs. Castor then saved Marriotts Ridge’s final PK shot, and Kaila Spence calmly put hers into the back of the net for Glenelg’s victory.
Saves: G — Kendall Castor 7; MR — Caroline Albert 7.
Long Reach 3, Atholton 1
The Lightning (4-6-1) end their season with consolation win over the Raiders (3-7). Senior Payton Holmes ended her high school soccer career with a goal in the Long Reach win, while Samantha Babik and Alicia Bauer also scored for the Lightning.
Goals: LR — Payton Holmes, Samantha Babik, Alicia Bauer; A — Taylor Lau.
Assists: LR — Bauer; A — N/A.
Saves: LR — Kailey Leibe 4, Kelsey Linkous-Dowdy 0; A — N/A.
Halftime: 2-1, LR.
River Hill 2, Howard 1 OT
The Hawks (5-4-1) ended their season with the consolation victory in overtime over Howard (4-6-1).
Goals: RH — Yao, Stoutenborough; Ho — Sarah Gibbons.
Assists: RH — Omitowoju, Florenzo; Ho — Sophie Douglass.
Lauren Pellegrini scored two first-half goals to lead the Eagles (6-5) to the consolation victory over the Wildecats (5-5-1). Outside midfielder Carolyn DeSena was stout in defending All-County midfielder Aicha Wilson and led the team with her clever runs with and without the ball. Seniors Rebecca Bianchini, Cicely Clark and Briana Fant led a stubborn and composed defense in their final match for Centennial.
Goals: C — Lauren Pellegrini 2.
Assists: C — Callie LasCasas, Ellie Munoz.
Saves: C — Rebecca Bianchini 2, Olivia Jackson 3; WL — N/A.
Halftime: 2-0, C.
River Hill 3, Reservoir 1
The Hawks claimed the outright county championship with the win over the Gators. The county title is River Hill’s first since 2017.
“It’s been a great season, but it’s extra good because it’s been a rough year for everyone with COVID,” said Hawks head coach Shelly Chamness on the phone following the win. “When you set out to do something, it feels amazing when you accomplish it.”
In a true team effort, most of River Hill’s top players contributed in the win.
Maddie Vasilios, Lindsey Miller and Quill Alewine all scored, while Claire Slade, Puja Nanjappa and Alewin all tallied assists. Chamness also said senior defenders Lindsay Garnish and Karmjit Barring, who had two goal-line saves, were crucial in the victory.
“The whole season it’s really been a team effort,” Chamness said. “We didn’t have a weak spot on the field this year, which is nice. Everybody pulled their weight every game. It really has been a whole team effort all year.”
While last week’s 2-0 win over Howard clinched River Hill (9-1) at least a share of the county crown, the win over Reservoir (2-7) to end the regular season earned the Hawks the right to have trophy all to themselves.
Saves: RH — Jocelyn Baker 2; Re — Isabella Brown 5.
Marriotts Ridge 2, Glenelg 1
The Mustangs continued their success against the Gladiators with the narrow victory. Ella Walchko scored twice to lead Marriotts Ridge (5-5) to their second win over Glenelg (7-3) this season. The Mustangs, who knocked the Gladiators out of the 2019 playoffs en route to winning the Class 2A state championship, defeated Glenelg 3-2 in overtime earlier this season. The Gladiators — the only team to defeat county-champion River Hill this season — entered the last play date of the season with a chance to claim a share of the county championship if they defeated the Mustangs and River Hill lost to Reservoir. With the loss and River Hill’s win, though, Glenelg ends the campaign as runner-ups in Division A.
Goals: MR — Ella Walchko 2; G — Sarah Kang.
Assists: MR — Sophia Baxter, Addy Obitz; G — N/A.
Saves: MR — Amanda Windsor 3; G — N/A.
Mt. Hebron 1, Howard 0
The Vikings (4-6) ended their season with the shutout win over the Lions (2-7).
Atholton 2, Hammond 0
The Raiders (8-2) ended their season with the shutout win over the Golden Bears (4-6).