Len Petrey and Ken Zorbach experienced different kinds of pressure in coming from opposite extremes to wind up as The Baltimore Sun's Harford County co-Coaches of the Year for boys soccer.
Going into the season, Petrey's Fallston squad had not lost to a county foe in two years (12-0-2), and it had been to the state playoffs each of the previous two years. The Cougars were favored to continue the streak, and, led by Shane Dougherty, the best player in the county, there was talk of going far in the playoffs.
Zorbach had no such tradition or streak about which to worry at Aberdeen. Following a trip to the playoffs three years ago, the Eagles put up successive seasons of 1-11 and 2-10, and many of this year's players had been starters a year ago.
When it was over, Fallston had gone 6-0-1 in the county and won the state Class 1A final, and Aberdeen, after losing its first three games, included a 1-1 tie with Fallston in a remarkable 7-1-1 run and a berth in the Class 2A regionals.
"The pressure is always there with a program like ours," Petrey said. "We've won the county title eight of the last 12 years [plus seven regional titles] and teams see us as the highlight of their schedule. Some of them believe beating us would make their season.
"We always want to be the best, but the hard part is getting the players to realize they have to expect a tough game every time. We set a season goal to be county champs and if we achieve that, everything else falls into place."
The Cougars also have "our secret weapon," Petrey said. "Tony Riedlbauer, my assistant coach, is the best tactical soccer mind in Harford County. He brings to us a dimension no other team has," he said.
For Zorbach's nine seasons as head coach at Aberdeen, the Eagles usually have finished in the middle of the county standings.
Of this year, he said, "We had such good preseason scrimmages, I didn't expect to lose those first three, and I thought, 'Uh oh, here we go again.'
"We had to get out of a losing attitude and get a winning one. After the third game, I challenged them and they responded. I knew they had the ability to play, and the players started believing it after beating Bel Air in the next game."
It turned out to be an especially sweet season for Aberdeen, and four seniors who had persevered through earlier adversity -- Chad Kolb, Chris Myers, Ryan O'Connor and Mike Ruth. Foreign exchange student Thomas Lundgren turned out to be a bonus, as he was a solid contributor to the team's success.