For the past few years, Wilde Lake's girls soccer team seemed on the brink of vaulting to the top of the Howard County standings, but the Wildecats could not make it happen.
This year may be different.
With yesterday's 4-0 win at Atholton, the Wildecats improved their record to 4-1-1 overall and 2-0 in Howard County. The league season may be young, but the Wildecats seem poised finally to live up to their potential.
The key to it all, said Wilde Lake coach Rick Wilson, was a couple of poor performances early on. After a loss to No. 9 Fallston and a tie against unranked Catholic, the Wildecats appeared doomed to another also-ran season.
Then something changed.
"Individually, we were very strong," said senior midfielder Nat Froman, "and individually, we were playing very well, but we realized we couldn't win that way. We had to come together and play as a team."
After beating St. Mary's and the Institute of Notre Dame, the unranked Wildecats staged the upset they needed -- stunning No. 6 Centennial, 1-0, on Friday. None of the Wildecats ever had beaten Centennial.
"I think beating Centennial was a turning point," said senior defender Carrie Chao. "That was the confidence booster. The desire is there, because it's been a disappointment the last three years. With eight seniors on the team, we don't have another year to wait. It's now or never."
Yesterday, the Wildecats continued their run with a tremendous offensive display against Atholton (3-3, 0-2).
Although the Wildecats outshot the Raiders, 40-6, Atholton did not play badly on defense. Freshman keeper Julie Kapcala made 16 saves and the Raiders also had fine defensive performances from halfback Paola Zbinden and sweeper Janene Dauberman.
"We wanted to keep a very close marking game and keep the pressure on," said Atholton coach Jim Carlan, who was missing three starters to injury. "We knew they were going to be a good passing team, so we wanted to slow the passing down and not let them set up for good shots. They did get shots, but not where they just set up and lined it up on us."
The Raiders' defense held tight in the first half, allowing Wilde Lake goals only on a penalty shot and a corner kick.
After a defender took her down, Froman placed the penalty kick nicely into the corner at the 17-minute mark. Four minutes later, Lindsay Waxler got an assist from a stiff wind as her corner kick looped under the crossbar on the far side for a 2-0 lead.
In the second half, the Wildecats took a 3-0 lead on a beautiful combination from Froman to Kristen Riismandel. Riismandel added another goal when Kapcala stopped a Froman shot, and Riismandel chipped in the rebound.
Next up for Wilde Lake is Howard on Friday followed by No. 4 Hammond next Wednesday.
"We have to keep focused," said Wilson, whose squad has six regular-season games remaining. "I don't think there's anyone who can beat us now -- except ourselves."