Since returning to the starting lineup from a monthlong bout with mononucleosis to start the season, Westminster forward Ali Bates said she's played with the ferocity of a "caged animal."
Yesterday, in the Class 4A North regional final, the Owls wasted little time in unleashing the talented junior on visiting C. Milton Wright.
Bates scored two goals in the game's first 15 minutes, and West minster then held on for a 2-1 win to advance to the Class 4A state semifinals at Goucher College for the 15th time since 1983, and 17th overall.
"We all said that we had to come out and score early. That way, our intensity level stays up," said Bates, who admitted that she's been a more aggressive player since recovering from the ill ness. "I just came out and I was ready to fire away."
The Owls (10-3-1) will face the winner of the South region - either Magruder or Walt Whitman - at 12 p.m. Monday. A year ago, Whitman knocked them out in the semifinals.
To make it back, Westminster pounced on the tentative Mustangs from the opening whistle.
"If we could"ve gotten that start back we were just nervous." Wright coach Carla Harward said. 'I think we woke up after - boom, boom - those two goals went in, and then we started playing our game. We just weren't prepared in the beginning."
Bates gave her team the lead nine minutes into the game, taking a feed from Christine Leazer following a penalty corner and beat ing goalie Kara Angela to her left to make it 1-0. She then made it 2-0 six minutes later off a pass from Lenis Hare.
"That was crucial." Westmin ster coach Judie Puckett said. "So much of the momentum in a game is determined in the first few minutes. We knew that to score early was really important. We were ready; we wanted to play."
After a shaky start, Wright (8-5-2) regrouped to make a game of it, but got its goal from Kelley Duncan with 3:08 to play.
Now, the Owls must prepare to take their seemingly annual trip to Towson, where they will begin the pursuit of what would be their sixth state title but first since 1996.
Puckett said that being part of a program with such a high stand ard of achievement is a double- edged sword.
"I think it's both comforting and it's pressure." Puckett said. 'It's pressure because everyone expects you to be at the top, and it's pressure to get there all the time. But it's also very motivating."