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US women’s World Cup win inspires Baltimore-area high school girls to train harder and coaches to take notes

American midfielder Rose Lavelle leaps into the arms of Alex Morgan as they, along with Megan Rapinoe, celebrate a goal by Lavelle during the second half Sunday.
American midfielder Rose Lavelle leaps into the arms of Alex Morgan as they, along with Megan Rapinoe, celebrate a goal by Lavelle during the second half Sunday. (Francisco Seco / Associated Press)

The last of all the big moments the United States women’s national soccer team provided earlier this summer came from tiny midfielder Rose Lavelle.

The 24-year-old Cincinnati native, a 5-foot-4 burst of energy, marched forward with the ball at her feet, reaching the 18-yard mark and unleashing a heavy left-footed shot that found the lower-right corner of the net in the second half of the World Cup final against the Netherlands.

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It gave the U.S. breathing room, and the world’s best team was celebrating a 2-0 win 20 minutes later for their second straight World Cup crown.

During the month-long tournament, Baltimore-area high school girls soccer players were glued to their televisions and coaches took notes.

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McDonogh All-Metro senior midfielder Lily McCarthy, who has been invited to youth national training camps, had an undeniable urge to play after watching the national team capture another World Cup.

“I was taking a little bit of a break after club was over and once I saw them win, I was like ‘I gotta go out there because I miss it,’ ” she said.

“It’s a big accomplishment and it really inspires everybody — boys and girls — that you can do whatever you want. It’s 2019 and you can get to the next level and win a World Cup if you work hard enough.”

The seven wins it took for the U.S. to capture the nation’s fourth World Cup were not only filled with inspiration, but learning tools.

Last season, South River’s only two losses came on penalty-kick shootouts — the first against Severna Park in the Anne Arundel County championship game and again in the Class 4A East region playoffs against Broadneck.

Coach John Sis made sure to reference to his players the approach U.S. captain Megan Rapinoe had in taking and making PKs on the biggest stage, displaying leadership with her willingness and confidence.

Lavelle’s emergence — the Washington Spirit star finished with three goals in the tournament — was another example.

South River Sophia Michalski-Cooper in action during a game last season.
South River Sophia Michalski-Cooper in action during a game last season. (Daniel Kucin Jr. / Capital Gazette)

“What inspired me was that all these women from around the country have the same amount of dedication and are willing to leave it all out on the field every time they play,” South River All-Metro midfielder Sophia Michalski-Cooper said.

The national team’s play caught the eye of Reservoir coach Phil Ranker, who has applied the team’s tactics to training sessions.

Right fullback Kelley O’Hara and wing Tobin Heath impressed him with the communication and trust they showed throughout the tournament. O’Hara confidently pushed upfield, always knowing Heath would have her spot covered. The overlap runs O’Hara made wreaked havoc for opponents, and on the rare occasion a connection wasn’t made, the U.S. players never found themselves vulnerable on counters because of Heath’s ability to track back.

Time and time again, Ranker also saw the U.S. players’ confidence with the ball and aggressiveness in the attacking third of the field, including a willingness to engage in one-on-one battles with defenders.

One of the biggest strengths the Gators have this season is their team speed, especially up front. Ranker is encouraging his players to trust their skills and take advantage.

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“The national team players are unafraid to challenge the other team. You look at Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle and Rapinoe, they’re obviously extremely confident in their 1-v-1 abilities, and any time they have an opportunity to get behind their defender, they take it,” Ranker said.

“I’ve pulled girls aside in practice multiple times and told them ‘I will never get mad at you if you take a defender on in an aggressive way and don’t get by them.’ That’s what we want, and everything we’re doing right now is set up to try to take advantage of those situations.”

Reservoir head coach, Phil Ranker encourages his team.
Reservoir head coach, Phil Ranker encourages his team. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Since winning the first of their four World Cup titles in 1991, the U.S. has been the worldwide measuring stick. How the team has handled that pressure was particularly impressive this summer when they became the first team to win consecutive World Cup titles.

In recent years, McDonogh has found itself in the same position. The Eagles have won five Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championships in the past six years and go into the season not only No. 1 in The Sun’s Top 15 poll, but also top-ranked nationally by Top Drawer Soccer.

“Obviously, it’s a totally different level and different level of attention, but I think it’s similar in the sense that I think the U.S. women are very good at shutting out all distractions,” McDonogh coach Harry Canellakis said. “It’s always easy to listen to what’s going on around the team or the individual awards or different criticisms that come, but it’s really important for teams that are very successful to basically have a standard that they set and don’t go away from.”

McDonogh alum Gaby Vincent, who went on to have a standout career at Louisville and now plays for the Utah Royals in the National Women’s Soccer League, was recently named to the U.S. women’s under-23 team. She was at McDonogh last week to share her story with this year’s team.

“She spoke to all our players about her journey to playing at the absolute highest level,” Canellakis said. “I think the women’s national team has done a really good job of constantly connecting to the past and making sure that [the 1999 team] is a huge part of their story. So constantly having that connection to previous generations is a huge part of building culture.

"We’re constantly talking about players that have come through the program before and used them as models. How they were as teammates, the way they contributed, and we even use negative examples of some that have come through and maybe haven’t done as well. I think that kind of modeling, for high school kids especially, the connection to the past can be really important.”

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