Tom Ehart worried about the offense after his first scrimmage. And the fundamentals. Two ingredients of girls soccer that, when lacking, can make for a long, miserable season.
Ten games later, the first-year coach at Severn School has trouble naming any weaknesses on his squad.
"If I could have a camera from Day One, when I stepped on the field, to now, it's unbelievable," he said, before yesterday's 0-0 tie with Riverdale Baptist, which left Severn's record at 8-1-1 -- its best start ever. The Admirals can equal their single-season record for wins, set in 1990, with a victory today at Mount de Sales.
"This is the happiest I've ever been with a team."
Until yesterday, scoring hadn't been the problem that Ehart anticipated in early September. Severn is averaging 4.1 goals, including 10-0 and 7-0 routs of Towson Catholic. And that's plenty of support for a defensive unit that had just one breakdown, a 7-1 loss to Mount Hebron, and has six shutouts.
"We mainly focused on ball control and fundamentals the first month or two, then we went to one-on-ones and put it all together, and boom, they're doing really well," Ehart said.
Yesterday, Riverdale Baptist ran into the same problems as other Severn opponents this year. The Admirals' defense, led by junior goalkeeper Cara Lawson (11 saves), stopper Kate Graw and sweeper Stephanie Tuerk, thwarted every Crusaders surge. But Riverdale Baptist managed to contain senior Sarah Long (17 goals, three assists) and sophomore Monique Jennings (12, 2), a potent one-two punch unequaled in the Catholic League's B Division.
"Both of those girls have blazing speed that catches almost every team by surprise," said Ehart, who is assisted by former Severna Park player Pam Bellman.
Long was a sweeper last year, but Ehart decided her skills were suited better someplace else.
"The first day of practice, I said, 'You're not a sweeper, you're a striker,' " he said. "She was like, 'No, not me.' She's got a great shot and probably the best ball control on the team.
"I knew in the league we were playing in, with her speed alone, she could take people one-on-one and just beat them."
Ehart, a 1987 graduate of Brooklyn Park, had served as an assistant to Jerry Tobin at St. Mary's for three years before replacing Mark Wagner this fall. He has coached the Severna Park Alliance's Under-19 Division I team in the Washington Area Girls Soccer League for four seasons.
"It's a big difference from my club team to high school, but I think I adjusted really well," he said. "At first, it was two different levels of soccer. But as far as the drills and preparation, I coach my high school girls similar to how I coach the club team. It just took a while for the high school team to learn a lot of the stuff being taught.
"When I first got here, it was, 'Let's boot it 40 yards and run.' Now, one of the things we do in practice for about a half hour is work on short passing. Good ball control. The ball is always on the ground, never in the air. And in the first scrimmage we had, the girls were like, 'This is beautiful. We've never played like that.' And I told them it was just going to get better."
He was right. The Admirals are sitting atop the B Division with a 6-0 record, which is significant considering they were third last year and never have won a division championship.
Severn expected to win yesterday, but Ehart said, "This is the poorest we've played this year. Every team is entitled to a bad game, and this was ours."