McDonogh's Luke Davis (10), Casey Settleman, top, and Mason Christian congratulate one another after a goal against Archbishop Curley in the Eagles' 3-1 win.
McDonogh's Luke Davis (10), Casey Settleman, top, and Mason Christian congratulate one another after a goal against Archbishop Curley in the Eagles' 3-1 win. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

McDonogh senior forward Mason Christian has the championship game experience down pat.

Plenty of rest and a pasta dinner came the day before, with nothing but positive thoughts coming the next day as he visualized how the game would play out before stepping on the field. Music always gets him going, so he made a special playlist the night before with Lil Baby’s “Freestyle” claiming the leadoff spot.

Advertisement

“Just listening to the playlist I had just made and thinking that tomorrow could be one of the best days of my life …” Christian said. “For me, I slept good on that. I slept real good on that.”

And the Eagles made good on it the next day, upsetting previously undefeated and No. 1 Loyola Blakefield on penalty kicks to win their second straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title last November.

Championship games are different.

More hype. More pace. More intensity. Bigger crowds. Bigger fields.

C. Milton Wright senior midfielder Ethan Dolezal has been on the winning side of two straight Class 3A state titles for the Mustangs, albeit different experiences at Loyola Maryland’s Ridley Athletic Complex.

“For the first one, I would say it was crazy. The night before, you’re nervous knowing you’re going to Loyola to play in the big stadium, knowing there’s going to be a big crowd there," he said. “Our team, we were just really confident and knew we had to win.”

C. Milton Wright senior Jayson Butler hoists the state championship trophy to the cheers of teammates.
C. Milton Wright senior Jayson Butler hoists the state championship trophy to the cheers of teammates. (The Aegis file photo)

As for last year’s successful defense?

“The second time, I was more calm knowing the routine, knowing where the locker room was and being ready for the huge crowd. I was excited to get back there,” Dolezal said.

For coaches, trying to get players prepared for something they had never experienced before is challenging. Every player responds to the big stage differently.

McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta, who has guided the Eagles to three championship wins and four title game appearances in his first five years at the helm, said there’s several things that can help prepare players, but nothing can completely replicate the big game.

Each season, he’ll schedule a couple of night games against top opponents to get his team under the lights in front of a big crowd.

As the season progresses, the speed in training increases.

By now, the Eagles are seasoned veterans.

“For anybody who is having a first go at a championship game, everything is heightened,” Quaranta said. “We tell them everything you need to do has to go up 10 to 15% to win the game. You can say that to players as much as you want, but if they haven’t been in it, it’s very difficult. So you’re really relying on the upperclassmen who have been through it before to bring those younger guys along.”

Advertisement

Alex Krause left playing club ball for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy last year to don the jersey he grew up watching win state championships, living minutes away from River Hill.

The star forward enjoyed a sensational junior season, finishing with 15 goals and nine assists in helping lead the Hawks to the Class 2A championship.

The game was everything he imagined, as he got the chance to represent his school and community while playing with his childhood friends.

The only disappointment came at the end as the Hawks fell to Oakdale on penalty kicks.

He’s banking on a better ending for the Hawks this season.

“Coming off a loss like that, we have to come back with the same energy and even more because we didn’t pull through last year,” he said. “But we’re all very excited and we all know we can do it. We have a lot of seniors and we’ve been playing together for a long time, so we know we have each other’s backs and it should come out in our favor this year.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement