The McDonogh girls soccer team had to wait a year to defend its 2019 Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship. Then it had to wait a little longer when Saturday night’s championship game against Archbishop Spalding went into overtime.
It was all worth it for the No. 1 Eagles, who got a goal from sophomore reserve Ada Morris five minutes into the extra time for a 1-0 win over the No. 4 Cavaliers at Calvert Hall.
The Eagles finished the season 16-2 and claimed the program’s ninth league title. Spalding, which fell to McDonogh, 3-0, in the regular season, closed the season 11-5.
Senior star midfielder Kelsey Smith has delivered all season for the Eagles and did so once again, getting by a defender on the right side before serving a ball in for Morris to nudge home in front with her thigh. For the sophomore midfielder, it was her second goal of her season.
“I can’t believe it at all,” Morris said with a smile and sigh. “I trust Kelsey 100% and I couldn’t believe I was wide open with the ball. I just put my whole body, tried to connect with the ball and it just went in. It’s insane, especially because I’m not a starter, so this is huge for me. And I wanted it so bad and my team wanted it so bad and to be able to show that with a goal is incredible.”
In the teams’ regular-season meeting Sept. 29, the Eagles pulled away for a 3-0 home win. The championship rematch was much closer.
The Cavaliers controlled stretches, particularly the first 30 minutes of play, and finished with a 7-2 advantage in corner kicks. Both teams had chances in the 80 minutes of regulation, but the defenses ruled play.
Early in the second half, Spalding’s Gabby Wisbeck delivered a free kick from 40 yards that stayed in front for a few precious seconds before a McDonogh defender was able to clear. In the closing minutes of regulation, Smith, who was effectively double-teamed throughout the game, made a strong run with the ball before hitting a heavy shot from 25 yards that went off the left post.
Midway through the first 10-minute overtime, she got the ball down the right side, beat a defender and sent the game-winning cross for Morris to finish. Jubilation followed.
After winning their third straight league title in 2019 and then missing last year because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Eagles entered the season with only five players with varsity experience, including just three starters. It brought a rare hint of uncertainty for the perennial power. But behind senior leaders Smith, midfielder Olivia Ozbolt and goalkeeper Maddie Lowney, the Eagles dug in, and their confidence grew as the season went on.
By Saturday’s title game, they had developed much the same swagger as past championship teams and once again found a way.
“We knew we wanted to do it for each other and I think it’s even more special because coming in, we were not expected to get here this season and I think it’s awesome to be here, an awesome feeling,” said Smith, who closed out her three years of varsity with 19 goals and three assists this season. “Going into overtime, we knew we deserved it and this is what we wanted … We played with heart and gave everything we got, so I think that’s what matters.”
The Cavaliers, who graduated 12 seniors from last year’s condensed season, had obstacles to overcome as well as they were seeking the program’s sixth league crown and first since 2016. They made adjustments and showed vast improvement from the first meeting against the Eagles. Saturday, they put together a fine collective effort with midfielders Sophia Thibeault and Reagan Mallia standing out with defender Meghan Bernetti.
“We were really focused on strategy going into this game, coming off a 3-0 loss during the season,” Spalding coach Ashly Kennedy said. “All the pieces weren’t together in that game, so for us, it was staying disciplined, sticking to a game plan and believing in it and knowing that within our strategy things are going to happen and chances will occur.
“It started to happen, we definitely had lots of pockets and chances that we created just because of our discipline and patience ... We had a couple chances in front of the goal that we could have tucked away. Unfortunately, Kelsey is a fantastic player, she gets around a defender and creates service and we’re so focused on her, it makes us a little vulnerable in that key moment. But I can’t take away from how proud I am of this team this year. There was a lot of unknowns, 12 seniors lost from last year, lot of adjustments … I think we definitely had some setback during the season but it only made us better and stronger and more prepared for this.”
McDonogh and Spalding have combined to win the past 13 league titles dating back to 2008. St. Vincent Pallotti was the last team other than the two to win the crown in 2007.
McDonogh 1, Spalding 0
Goals: M — Morris
Assists: M — Smith
Saves: S — Murray 2; M — Lowney 2