Christina Coroneos remembers a time when her McDonogh girls soccer team struggled to compete with the high school powerhouses from Howard County.
"In my freshman year, we could never play with the Columbia schools. We played Centennial and lost, 5-0. Now, I have no doubt we could beat them," said Coroneos, who along with Eagles teammates Alexandra Williamson, Kara Cristaldi, Michelle Harrison and Katy Strain lives in Howard County.
For a long time, the Eagles' Howard County connection felt the team did not get the respect it deserved from the players and coaches back home. Now, few have any doubt about the Eagles (12-0), a team loaded with talent from all over the Baltimore metro area.
"In the past three years, this team just established a reputation for itself," said Cristaldi, a junior midfielder from Atholton's school district. "More and more over the course of the years, we've gotten better and we've gotten the respect."
Actually, they have earned that respect.
With a 3-0 victory over then-top-ranked Hammond in mid-September, the Eagles vaulted over all the Howard County teams into the No. 1 spot in The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 poll. They also leaped to No. 4 in the nation as ranked by USA Today.
"I knew we were going to be good, but I didn't think it would come this far. It's great in my senior year to do this," said Coroneos, who otherwise would have attended Glenelg.
All five of the local Eagles grew up playing soccer in Columbia, moving from neighborhood to travel to club teams. Coroneos and Cristaldi, who play for the Severna Park Alliance club team, made state Olympic Development Program teams.
One McDonogh coach also has a Howard County connection. Maurice Boylan Jr., who guides the Eagles along with Ted Scocos, coached the Hammond boys squad for a couple years before moving to McDonogh three years ago.
Boylan said the Howard County girls fit into the Eagles' program perfectly.
"The five kids from Columbia play on club teams with the girls down there, but the Columbia schools have a lot of girls who play together on those club teams," he said.
"We have such a mixture of kids from all over who are not on the same club team, so we've got to mold that. We've managed to do it pretty well."
Although their top goal is to sweep the Catholic League regular-season and tournament titles, the local girls also look forward to playing the Howard County public schools. In addition to Hammond, the Eagles meet Atholton in a make-up game tomorrow afternoon.
The Atholton game has an extra edge for Strain, who just transferred from the school this fall.
"It's going to feel strange because I played with them for two years," said the junior halfback. "We never played McDonogh when I was at Atholton, and I didn't know much about McDonogh. I thought they were good, but I didn't know how good."
Rivalries certainly exist between the Howard County schools and McDonogh, located in Owings Mills, especially since the Eagles had to beat the top Howard teams to reach the top of the rankings. But the players say the rivalries are friendly ones.
"I know a lot of people who play in Columbia," said Harrison, a junior fullback who would attend Oakland Mills. "Even if I'm not friends with them, I know their names and faces. When we play in Howard County, it's the only chance I have to watch my friends play, because we have practice, so I never get a chance to see their games."
With the Eagles' recent success, Boylan and Scocos hope next fall's schedule includes other national powers, including the three currently ranked ahead of McDonogh -- Massachusetts' Newton North, Pittsburgh's Mount Lebanon and Ohio's Village Bay.
That would put a lot more pressure on the Eagles, but the girls seem to be getting used to it.
"Last year, there was a lot more pressure," said Williamson, a senior fullback from Howard's school district. "We were on edge and there was a lot of pressure to win and prove ourselves. This year, we have an incredible amount of confidence. We go into every game thinking we can win."