Laurel Leader

Postseason run to finals brightens future for Pallotti girls soccer

When St. Vincent Pallotti first-year girls soccer coach Maceo Rojas found out the Interscholastic Athletic Association C soccer championship game against Park School was going to be played on an artificial turf field at Anne Arundel Community College, he took measures to make sure his team would be prepared.

"When I found out that the final was going to be played on turf, I arranged to have us train a few training sessions on turf [at Rockburn Park] just to get the girls used to the speed of it and the bounce of it and all that, because it really is different from playing on grass," Rojas said.


Park's field is a turf field and Pallotti's is natural grass, so when they played at Park on Oct. 6 during the regular season, the Bruins won 4-0.

The IAAM championship game on Nov. 5 was much closer.


In fact, it was tied at 1-1 until the waning moments, when Park freshman Carrie Davis scored the game-winning goal to give the Bruins (14-2) a 2-1 victory over the Panthers (14-4).

"Literally, with two minutes left in the second half, they scored, and that was it," Rojas said. "It was a heart breaker."

Davis had battled a knee injury toward the end of the season and it flared up during the title game.

"We were thinking abut not getting her back into the game, because she was in pain, but she ended up going in," said Park coach Malick Mbengue, who praised her individual effort scoring the goal.

Park had taken a 1-0 lead early in the game on a goal by senior Michelle Pais, but Pallotti tied it later in the half on a penalty kick by junior Caroline Falcone. Freshman wing Lindsay Thweatt drew the foul in the box to set up the penalty kick.

Thweatt and her twin sister, Nia Thweatt, were threats all season on the wings for the Panthers.

"They are both very fast and very athletic," Rojas said.

Rojas, whose team benefited from its practice sessions on turf, played the Bruins close in the first half.


"We kind of have a style of game where we possess the ball a lot and when we played them during the regular season, I don't think they were expecting that style so we kind of dominated the game," Mbengue said. "The Pallotti coach definitely adjusted pretty well and they had a pretty good strategy pressuring us on the ball and that's why the first half was so competitive. It took us a long time to find our rhythm."

The bigger field may have also taken its toll on the Panthers.

"They were pressuring us constantly and I think they kind of slowed down a little bit because they were getting tired," Mbengue said.

The Panthers have only 17 players on the roster so depth was also a factor.

"The second half we started off kind of even, but as the time kind of wore on, I think we really started to wear down," Rojas said. "Park possesses the ball very well. They keep the ball and so you do a lot of running without the ball and that kind of wears a team down on any level. The second part of the second half we just ran out of gas."

Pallotti goalie Tahlia Brown-Stangherlin helped keep the game tied.


"They were pressing, pressing, pressing and our goalie, Talia, she was a monster. She kept us in the game," said Rojas, estimating she had eight to 10 saves. "Most of them were really comfortable, where she really didn't have to extend herself, but two or three were game savers."

Brown-Stangherlin was also in goal during a 2-0 shutout of Annapolis Area Christian School in the quarterfinals, and when the third-seeded Panthers defeated second-seeded St. John's Catholic Prep on penalty kicks in the semifinals.

She was supported by a defense featuring sophomore back Theresa Rinker and senior back Madison Hannon, flanking junior center back Dallis Holt and sophomore center back Nyah Doe.

In the win over St. John's, the game was tied 2-2 after 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime, before it was finally decided in a penalty kick shootout with five shooters from each side.

The first two St. John's shooters missed, but the third and fourth kickers converted.

Meanwhile, Pallotti's Mya Spivey, Nia Threatt and Ayanna Green all were successful and that set Falcone up for the game-winning kick and she drained it for a 4-2 win on penalty kicks.


The Panthers never had to use their fifth shooter, Lindsay Thweatt.

"We practiced PK's twice before that game because I just figured one of these playoff games could end up in PK's, so the practice really paid off," Rojas said. "They did really well."

Falcone led the Panthers with 12 assists during the regular season and Green led the squad with 21 goals.

Nia Thweatt added nine goals.

The deep postseason run came sooner than expected for the first-year coach, but the future looks even rosier.

"I think we will be better," Rojas said. "We are only losing two seniors, which is good, and I'm working on bringing in a really good recruiting class of ninth graders. I thought we were maybe a year or two away when I first started, but they did really well."