A state championship wasn’t the goal for Century girls soccer.
Coming off an upset loss in last year’s regional semifinal, the Knights were focused on taking care of unfinished business. But once that was achieved, why not win it all?
Friday at Loyola Maryland’s Ridley Athletic Complex, Century stared down defending Class 2A state champion Glenelg. For more than 50 minutes, the teams played even, trading scoring chances but not finishing.
Finally in the 53rd minute, Century senior defender Emily Beall-Dennell scored off a corner kick for the only goal in No. 11 Century’s 1-0 win over the No. 12 Gladiators in the 2A state championship game.
The Knights finish 15-3, winning the program’s fourth state championship and first since 2013.
“Every single thing we’ve been doing has been leading up to this moment,” Century senior goalie Mia Graff said. “And it might not have been one of our top goals going into the season, our top goal was regionals, but now we surpassed that, we’re here and we wanted the whole thing. That’s what we came and did today.”
“I was hopeful the whole game,” Beall-Dennell added. “I felt like we were pushing so hard the whole time. I never doubted us at all. My emotions, I was so happy the whole game. I never once felt down or anything.”
Glenelg finishes the year 14-4 after losing 13 seniors from last year’s state championship team.
“I’ve been on this team for four years,” Glenelg senior Ginny Sung said. “We worked hard, a lot of great moments on this team. I actually love these girls and I’m sad to leave them. But I’m happy we got this far.”
Century doesn’t rely on one superstar for its offense, spreading the ball around instead. Entering Friday, 15 Knights scored a goal this season. Beall-Dennell became the sweet 16th.
“That’s something we pride ourselves on quite a bit, that one player does not define who we are,” Century coach Chris Little said. “We work very hard to make sure each one of our players has an opportunity to be successful and create success for their team.”
In the 53rd minute, Megan Rusk sent a corner kick into the box. It was headed over by Mia Savage, bouncing once off the turf before Beall-Dennell connected and sent it into the top corner of the net.
“I just remember watching it barely hit the net and I already turned around and it just didn’t feel real” Beall-Dennell said. “Those are always the type of bouncing balls I’m always scared I’m going to sky, and I was just so shocked I was able to put it in, first one of the season.”
Century knew the defending champs weren’t going to hand over their title without a fight. Graff was ready for the surge.
“The first thing I did, as soon as Emily scored, I ran on the field and I looked at all of them and I said, ‘They’re going to push now. This is their time when they’re going to have their run. We have to be prepared for that, we have to be calm,’” Graff said. “That was going to dictate the rest of the game, that little push right there. Once we shut that down, I think we had it in the bag.”
A minute after the Century goal, Glenelg had its own corner opportunity that Graff corralled. A minute after that, Stephanie Lathrop sent a hard grounder at goal that Graff smothered.
Glenelg had a few more chances the rest of the way, but none quite as nice, and none that got past Graff and the Century defense.
Lathrop scored 20 goals on the season but struggled to find any good looks at the net Friday with center back Bella Mastria leading the charge.
“We just tried not to stab,” Mastria said of guarding Lathrop. “That’s something we all have struggled with in the past. If we stab and miss, then she’s one-on-one with Mia and I don’t wanna put Mia in that situation.”
“I think we really missed our opportunities,” Lathrop said. “We got through their defense, and weren’t able to score. We had plenty of corners we couldn’t finish, a couple great saves by the goalie, and I think it just didn’t go our way tonight.”
If there were any nerves coming in facing the defending champions, Century didn’t show it early. The Knights ran a crisp offense that created several opportunities.
“It’s really about composure,” sophomore midfielder Bella Coccio said. “Taking your time and looking at the field scanning. Just finding a pass, keep connecting, connecting passes. This is a really good team and they know how to press. So if you get the ball off your foot quickly, it works really well.”
A championship might not have been at the front of Century’s mind when practice began three months ago, but Friday will be a night no Knight is likely to forget.
“It is the best feeling that’s obtainable playing high school sports,” Graff said. “For anybody who’s ever played high school sports, this is the top tier. This is as far as you can get and it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Goals: C - Emily Beall-Dennell
Assists: C - Mia Savage
Half: Tied 0-0