Coach Christian von Rautenkranz understands the beginning of October is a pivotal time for a Glenelg girls soccer team that has had an up-and-down 2018 campaign. The Gladiators entered Monday’s non-league match against Glenelg Country with three wins, six losses and a tie, though half of those defeats were to league opponents River Hill, Reservoir and Wilde Lake — all of which are ranked in the top 15 of the latest Baltimore Sun girls soccer poll.
The Gladiators also went up against No. 15 Centennial, and they escaped Ellicott City with a 1-1 draw.
Now, they are in the midst of the lighter portion of their schedule, meaning it’s time for them to “learn how to win,” according to their first-year coach. Well, the past two games have been a promising start.
Following a 1-0 win over Howard on Friday, the Gladiators scored a season-high three goals on Monday and produced more than a dozen scoring opportunities in their 3-2 victory over IAAM A Conference foe Glenelg Country.
“In years past, I remember watching the New York Giants the year they beat the [New England] Patriots,” said von Rautenkranz, referring to the 2007 NFL season during which the Giants defeated the previously undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. “The New York Giants were an average team, but they got their stuff together right at the last minute and they rolled into the playoffs with so much momentum.
“So, that’s what I want to happen to us,” he added. “We had some tough losses, but even though they were 3-0, they were still close against Reservoir and River Hill and Wilde Lake. If we catch our momentum right, and we start playing this type of soccer even better … we’ll be very dangerous. We’ll be like the New York Giants, like you never know what we could do.”
Von Rautenkranz has emphasized a possession-based style of play all season, and on Monday afternoon, Glenelg (2-4-1 Howard County, 4-6-1 overall) connected passes up and down the field to create 16 shots. It’s what allowed senior midfielder Madalyn Nichols to open the scoring in the 10th minute.
Moments before taking a free kick, junior defender Hallie Koele directed her gaze at Nichols and nodded to signal the pass would come her way. Nichols then corralled the ball on the left side, examined the goalkeeper’s position and aimed her shot towards the upper-right corner. That’s all it took for the Gladiators to go ahead, 1-0.
Eight minutes later, Glenelg Country answered with a score of its own thanks to Celia Pell. Standing about 40 yards from goal, Pell launched a free kick that sailed over everyone’s head. That includes goalkeeper Kendall Castor (11 saves), who got her left hand on the shot but could not prevent it from landing in the bottom of the net.
Both teams created a dangerous opportunity here or there before intermission, but on those shots, either Castor or Dragons goalie Brianna Chun (seven saves) made a crucial save to preserve the tie. A draw, however, would not be good enough for von Rautenkranz.
“Coach Von’s speech at halftime really influenced us to step up our game and not play down,” Nichols said. “Just keep our focus, and take more of our opportunities. We noticed we were able to kind of able to dribble through them in the defense, so we just wanted to keep doing that to finish our chances.”
The Gladiators began the second half with three shots in the opening six minutes and continued pushing forward with an urgency not seen in the first period. They not only wanted to score the second goal, but also the third and fourth. Their best form of defense, as it turned out, was more offense.
Several failed shot attempts from Glenelg could be forgotten with about 20 minutes to play, as Emily Nalls broke the tie with a score off a feed from Symone Jenson. And less than 90 seconds later, Nichols single-handedly doubled that lead. A plethora of unsuccessful crosses left Nichols frustrated, so finally she decided to weave through the defense herself. She ended up beating multiple Dragons for a much-needed third tally.
“We had moments of clarity, and we had moments of watching and they capitalized on that,” Glenelg Country coach Christy Cole said. “I mean, the third goal where she dribbled through four people, there’s no excuse for that.”
Widespread youth and a host of injuries has hindered Glenelg Country in its attempt to compete in the renowned IAAM A Conference, Cole said. And on Monday, the Dragons, who received their second goal from Ava Swartz with about seven minutes left in regulation, also allowed Glenelg to possess a majority of 50/50 balls, which in turn put even more pressure on the backline.
“I recognized that we were going to beat them with numbers,” von Rautenkranz said. “They had a smaller roster, and I don’t know how many subs they were making, but it did not look like a lot. So I was able to change my midfielders and my other players, and towards the second half, we were just beating them with our stamina.”
Glenelg (4-6-1) — 3, Glenelg Country (1-6) — 2
Goals: G — Madalyn Nichols 2, Emily Nalls; GCS — Celia Pell, Ava Swartz.
Assists: G — Symone Jenson, Hallie Koele, Sarah Lathrop; GCS — Corrin Grimes.
Saves: G — Kendall Castor; GCS — Brianna Chun 7.