Severna Park girls lacrosse knew the feeling all too well.
The Falcons had a chance to win the 2022 Class 3A state title, but they let Marriotts Ridge stampede back and lost by a goal.
In Thursday’s championship game, Towson threatened to overcome a six-goal deficit, just as Severna Park had done against Westminster in the previous round. Senior Charlotte Diez was the one to point that out to her teammates: “Hey, we could come back from it. They could, too.”
“We ran like someone was chasing us,” midfielder Alyssa Gore-Chung said. “We just had to keep scoring, over and over again, to make sure.”
Severna Park stopped the Generals’ comeback bid with its own rally, securing the 3A championship with a 12-8 victory at Stevenson University. It’s the Falcons’ (19-3) first state title since 2019 and 15th overall, tying Mt. Hebron for the most in Maryland girls lacrosse history.
The seniors who celebrated on Mustang Stadium’s turf could finally exhale. Gore-Chung, a junior, led the Falcons with four goals. Diez, as her last act as a Severna Park player, had three.
“With such an awesome team, we couldn’t go through four years without winning a state championship,” senior defender Lilly Spilker said.
Even for the program that’s dominated for decades, this title was born out of strife. After the coronavirus pandemic stole the 2020 season, a very young team wore the Falcons blue and gold the following spring, and it showed when Broadneck won the Class 4A crown. When the team of sophomores and juniors returned in 2022, the transition to the 3A proved too much.
Even before this spring, adversity would not stop darkening Severna Park’s doorstep. The Falcons lost a key defensive figure in senior Karli Kirchenheiter to injury in the preseason. Senior midfielder Regan McDonnell, who played a major role on offense and draw controls and scored two goals Thursday, lost half her season to an injured back. This was only Spilker’s first full varsity season after battling back from knee problems.
Severna Park players felt the final countdown of their high school careers ticking down, and they responded to the challenge. The Falcons beat rival Broadneck and garnered the Anne Arundel County title for the second straight season, not only because they were talented, but because they really liked each other.
“We bounced back really well, even when we had some tough losses,” Gore-Chung said. “We’d never turn on each other. We’d talk through what went wrong and work on it.”
In Friday’s state semifinal, Westminster tossed Severna Park into the uncomfortable ditch of desperate catch-up that resulted in overtime. The Falcons did not permit Towson the same opportunity. It was their last game, Diez said, and they wanted to make it the one to remember.
The Falcons stressed individual work on offense this week to ensure a hot start. Led by freshman Maria Bragg, McDonnell and Gore-Chung, Severna Park claimed 11 of 21 draws.
“Coming off the last win, we were just so pumped, we really didn’t want to fall short again like we did at the beginning [then],” Diez said. “We just wanted to play like we knew how to play.”
Less than two minutes in, Severna Park swiped the Generals’ draw control and opened the door for an onslaught: Diez, McDonnell, Gore-Chung, Stella Bordone and Sara Kreis scored for a 7-1 start. It would be a hangup Towson could never truly shake.
“I think we just came out nervous,” Generals coach Taylor Carhart said. “Severna Park’s been here before; they had that experience, and that helps a lot. When you get down — even though we fought our way out of it before — it’s hard versus an experienced team like that.”
Towson’s attack moved more methodically, and that was its error. Instead of shooting quickly, the Generals’ ball-handlers flushed to the sides, worked to set up plays — and suffered turnovers.
Falcons coach Annie Houghton asked for her defense to show up. They stayed low, avoided fouls (for the most part) and corralled Towson’s shooters.
McDonnell, Gore-Chung and Diez love to watch Spilker in those moments. She has a nickname: “The Queen of Interceptions and Knockdowns.”
“She is the most frustrating person to pass around,” Gore-Chung said. “Charlotte and I will be looking for passes, this girl looks wide open and — boom — Lilly has it. By the time we realize she has the ball, she’s down to the 50.”
Towson made a pivotal choice, swapping in goalkeeper Lucy Buttarazzi. The senior made a save and let McDonnell score, but the Severna Park rampage had subsided, thanks in part to Towson’s defense.
But whether it took 10 minutes or 30 seconds, Severna Park would not be denied. Gore-Chung averted her marksman, darted at the cage and struck to make it 9-2.
Neither would Towson senior Brigid Vaikness.
She had already scored the General’s second goal under pressure. With her teammates and community members counting the final seconds of the half down, Vaikness’ shot skipped past Falcons keeper Allison Schiavone, cutting the lead to 9-3.
Then, as the second half begun, Gore-Chung jogged to the sideline with a two-minute penalty.
A lot can be accomplished in two minutes.
Senior Avery Briggs attacked first with her goal. Junior Lilywynn Holman followed swiftly, cutting Severna Park’s lead to four, 9-5, before Gore-Chung’s penalty expired.
With momentum back on its side, Towson clawed another chunk out of the Falcons, as Chloe Gibson made it 9-6. Houghton drew her team in.
The Generals’ defense heightened Severna Park’s troubles by marking both Gore-Chung and Diez close. Luckily, as good as they are, the pair are used to it. Gore-Chung considers herself loud, a playing style that screams: “look at me.” The good thing about creatures that hunt in packs: if the prey’s focus is on one threat, the other can attack by surprise.
“We have such depth on our team that if one player gets shut down, another steps up,” Houghton said. “And that’s exactly what we did.”
Gore-Chung made up for her penalty by scoring. Bragg followed suit 12 seconds later. Vaikness hit back, but Towson’s fire had been snuffed. Diez added another goal just to be sure.
“We just kept playing the game. It’s two or three goals, but what’s two or three goals to a team that keeps scoring?” Gore-Chung said. “We’re like rolling down hill; we had all the momentum. With all our players back on our field, who’s gonna stop us?”
Carhart spent considerable time consoling her players afterward. Towson battled out of a difficult Baltimore County and through the 3A bracket to reach its first state championship game since 1997. Its only two losses came to state champions: Severna Park, of course, and Wednesday’s 4A winners, Broadneck.
Before the end, Towson tossed one final spark: a goal by Holman, just seconds before the clock expired.
“I’m nothing but proud of my team,” Carhart said. “Their senior class led them. They’re incredible leaders and are going to do incredible things, and I’m proud of every single one of them. They didn’t give up until they scored the last goal. That’s all we can ask for.”
SP: Alyssa Gore-Chung 4, Charlotte Diez 3, Regan McDonnell 2, Stella Bordone 1, Sara Kreis 1, Maria Bragg 1
TW: Brigid Vaikness 3, Lilywynn Holman 2, Gabi Galvez 1, Avery Briggs 1, Chloe Gibson 1