For the first 59 minutes of the the girls under-19 State Cup soccer game against the Bethesda Peppers Sunday at Glenwood Park, the Columbia Crusaders had the visitors spinning on their heels.

The Crusaders' corner kicks, booming volleys and nice through balls bounced off of heads, feet, knees and bodies and went nearly everywhere but into the goal. At half time, the score was 0-0.

"We've had some lovely corner kicks, but we're not getting to them first. We're delivering the ball, but we're letting it go out of bounds," said Crusaders coach Roy Andersch, with his team and Anita Andersch, his wife and co-coach, listening intently at the intermission.

"Let's go out there and knock it around in the middle a little bit -- use our skill," he said.

The Crusaders responded with a pair of goals from Thori Staples at the 14- and 25-minute marks of the second half for a 2-0 lead en route to a 2-1 victory and their fifth consecutive State Cup title.

The victory came over a Bethesda squad that had won the under-17 state cup title the year before.

The Crusaders, arguably the county's most talented team at the state cup level, have perhaps their best chance at winning a national title this year.

"We reached the regional semifinals the last two years, losingto Willingboro (N.J.) each time. Willingboro won the national title last year, but they're staying down at the under-17 level this year so we won't have to meet them," said Anita Andersch. The regionals will take place July 3-7 in Amherst, Mass.

"We've only lost about once in the last 25 games since December, and that was in a shootout in the finals (of last weekend's Columbia Memorial Day tournament)," shecontinued.

"We won that tournament once as an under-14 team, beating Willingboro. But it usually falls on the same weekend as the state track meet and the team is usually short. Last weekend was no exception."

The Crusaders' only Columbia Memorial tournament title was won before the majority of the team reached high school and began running track.

The Crusaders' roster reads like a Who's Who of high school track and soccer, beginning with striker Staples -- a two-time All-Harford County first-teamer, an All-Met player and the JoppatowneMariners' leading scorer in her three varsity seasons.

A Joppatowne junior, Staples, a national runner-up heptathlete last year, was aClass 1A state champion in the long jump and both the 400- and 800-meter runs. A year ago, she made the state's under-16 select soccer squad and was one of seven players chosen for the regional camp pool of110 girls -- all as a defender.

She is joined up front by CarolynSpringer, who chose the Crusaders after being crowned Freshman of the Year last fall in her first season at the University of North Carolina.

Two years ago, Staples' Joppatowne team was a Class 2A/1A state runner-up to a Hammond squad led by the coaches' daughter, Samantha Andersch, and Jackie Reischick, who were also in the Olympic Developmental Program.

The two Hammond players are excellent distance runners. Andersch was mile and two-mile county champion and a runner-upin the 800-meter. Reischick was competitive in the same three events.

Like Staples, Amanda Simmons is an example of the Crusaders' versatility and interchangeable parts. Although she plays defense for the Crusaders, Simmons was Anne Arundel County's top scorer in her junior season at Meade.

Simmons is part of the Crusaders' Anne ArundelCounty connection. There is also Glen Burnie's Kim Myers, Severna Park's Betsy Anderson and Simmons' Meade High teammate Kelly Dryden, a defender with the Crusaders.

Myers, a goalkeeper, was an All-County and All-Met player this past season, as were Anderson and Simmons. Dulaney graduate and Crusaders' defender Terri Rich also was an All-Met player.

Anderson was her county's best midfielder with 15 goalsand 10 assists this past season. She assisted on both goals in the Falcons' 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Oakland Mills in the Class 4A/3A state soccer championships. It was the Falcons' (16-0) third straight state title and their 40th straight win, having compiled a 46-0-1 record over three and a half seasons.

Sunday, the Crusaders' defense had no problem turning back a Bethesda attack led by two-time All-Met and under-19 national team member Julia Malinowski.

After the first half, the Crusaders held an 11-0 advantage in shots and a 6-0 advantage in corner kicks. They then outshot the Peppers, 21-2, with a 9-0 advantage in corner kicks for the game.

"We have a lot ofspeed in the back, and usually we can just flat-out out-run the other team," said Reischick.

The Peppers got off their first shot of the game with 17 minutes remaining, but it was snuffed by Krista Fulton, an All-County keeper from Howard High. With two minutes left, the Peppers' Karen Neason finally scored her squad's only goal, firing into an unprotected net after the ball had escaped a grounded Fulton out on the right.

"When we gave them time, they played beautifully. But if we were right on their backs, we took that away," said Samantha Andersch.

With all the talent at its disposal, this could well be the year that the Crusaders win a national title.

Said Anita Andersch: "We've been knocking on the door the whole time."

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