A year or two ago, the Broadneck Bruins would have walked off the field with a loss in a game like Tuesday's. That was a year or two ago.
This year's Bruins didn't, twice coming back from one-goal deficits and then getting a goal with four minutes left from one of their senior leaders, tri-captain Rachel Shuck, to continue a new trend this fall: Broadneck 3, Northeast 2.
Winning just one game in each of the previous two regular seasons, the Bruins cleaned their slate for last year's postseason play, getting three straight wins, their first region championship and newfound confidence that has spilled over into 1999.
The Bruins are 7-2 and 7-0 in county play. When Shuck stepped up to take that direct kick from just outside the penalty area on Tuesday, there was a positive feeling on the Broadneck side that ended in the back of the Northeast net.
"When you go out and play hard, good things are bound to come your way," said third-year coach Jennifer Sweeney. "Winning is not the key factor in our program. Always playing hard and as a team are the things we can control, so the focal point is on how well we play. It is a good feeling coming home with a win and a smile on your face, knowing you played the best you can and having the satisfaction there."
In the past, the same hard work didn't pay off with wins for the Bruins, but they stayed on course and the rewards are now here.
"It's been a lot of fun, and that's what our team is all about. We try not to lose sight of that," said senior tri-captain Meg McFall, an outside halfback. "We had a lot of fun last year, too. We just didn't gel until the end of the season. It took a long time to click, but we've finally done so, and we're here to stay."
Added Shuck: "Sometimes it was tough. But we always stuck together, and even if we'd lose, we knew if we kept working hard we'd pull through."
The goal areas were moved in closer to shorten the field during a small-sided game at practice on Wednesday as the Bruins prepared for what turned out to be a 2-0 win over Arundel on Thursday. The purpose was soon apparent: "Shoot the ball," Sweeney yelled repeatedly as shots were continuously being sprayed from all directions at goalkeepers Jennifer Bounelis and Lori Southard.
"Our main focus in practice is shooting drills, and we're also doing more one-on-one stuff. It gives you a lot of confidence, and we're scoring a lot more goals this season," said senior tri-captain Bryn Weller, a forward with four goals and an assist.
After scoring 22 goals in 15 games last season, the Bruins have 24 in their first nine this season.
Sophomore Stephanie Jones, who joined the varsity midway through last season and ended as the team's leading scorer, has six goals this season. Sophomore Kristen Kibler (four goals, three assists) and freshman Desi Colon (three goals, three assists) join the speedy Weller to keep the goals coming from everywhere.
The defense has five shutouts and has limited opponents to one goal per game.
Keeping everything together is a versatile midfield that features Shuck in the middle.
As McFall puts it, the Bruins are "one big happy family."
Sweeney makes sure to include assistant coach Denise Perrone, junior varsity coach Joe Deak and volunteer coach Holly Hladycz as key members of that family.
Northeast coach Charles Park, whose Eagles had a similar turnaround last season, left Tuesday impressed with the way the Bruins worked as a unit.
"Their defense complemented the midfield, and, in turn, their midfield complemented their attack," he said. "It's a nice mixture of youth with senior leaders."
"It can get frustrating sometimes when you keep working hard and don't get the breaks. But once you do get some breaks, you get that feeling that it's going to go your way and then the confidence comes. That's where Broadneck is at right now."
After going 1-10-3 in 1997 and then winning one regular-season game last fall, the Broadneck girls soccer team followed with three straight wins in the postseason to capture its first region title. This season the Bruins are 7-2 overall and 7-0 in the county. Some keys to the turnaround:
Better shooting -- Third-year coach Jennifer Sweeney has spent much more time on shooting drills this fall, and the result is evident. Last season, the Bruins scored 22 goals in 15 games. In their first nine games this fall, they have 24. A balanced attack led by sophomore Stephanie Jones' six goals has been puzzling opponents.
Tighter defense -- The Bruins allowed 1.8 goals per game last season and had one shutout. With sophomore Lori Southard and senior Jennifer Bounelis sharing the time in goal this season and plenty of defensive support anchored by senior sweeper Tiffany Limbacher, the defense has shut out five opponents and the goals-against average is down to 1.0.
Player familiarity -- Of the nine seniors on the roster, four -- including tri-captains Rachel Shuck, Meg McFall and Bryn Weller -- have played all three years of varsity in which Sweeney has coached. The senior group has welcomed a talented nucleus of underclassmen to give the Bruins a solid mix.
A simple approach -- All Sweeney has asked of her Bruins is to play hard and work as a team. With that, "good things are bound to happen," she says. Those good things are wins with plenty of fun along the way.