McDonogh girls soccer star Kelsey Smith has taken on every challenge this season to make sure the young Eagles find their way.
The senior forward has been a strong influence to her inexperienced teammates, has played several positions to cater to the team’s needs and has brought a sense of calm.
But her biggest responsibility is scoring goals when the Eagles need them. One of those occasions came in the second half of their scoreless playoff game against visiting Notre Dame Prep on Wednesday.
Settling a ball at the top of the penalty area, Smith sidestepped a defender and then another, setting up her left foot with a shot that found the right corner of the net.
The game’s opening goal — coming with just under 30 minutes to play — gave No. 1 McDonogh the breakthrough it needed to close out a 3-1 win over No. 7 Notre Dame Prep in an Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinal in Owings Mills.
Elle Long and Gracie Salais followed with goals for the Eagles, who will take on No. 4 Archbishop Spalding — a 3-1 winner over No. 5 St. Paul’s — in Saturday’s 7 p.m. title game at Calvert Hall.
The Eagles (15-2) will be seeking their fourth straight crown and the program’s ninth overall.
Contained by quick double teams by the Blazers all game long, Smith proved persistent in scoring her 19th goal of the season.
“We just kept pushing,” she said. “There was two girls on me and I kind of cut inside and got it on my left foot. I knew that we needed one, so I just took a shot and was super happy.”
It hasn’t been a typical season for the Eagles, who didn’t play last year because of pandemic restrictions. Smith is one of three starters that played on the 2019 championship team, with the rest of the group having never played on varsity. They worked hard, maintained the program’s lofty standards and found themselves back in the championship game.
Smith has been the team’s unquestioned driving force despite the heavy attention she’s received from opponents.
“Everybody knows she’s scoring a lot of our goal and she constantly delivers. So the fact that she can deliver in such an important game says a lot,” McDonogh coach Harry Canellakis said.
On Wednesday, the Blazers (7-4-2) looked to defend first and pick their spots when attacking. They were able to hold off Smith and the Eagles to keep the game scoreless at half and then had a quality chance of their own when Sarah Goodison’s pass ahead to Ava Forti was just a touch too far.
Five minutes later, Smith got the rare time and space needed for the first goal. With 19:25 to play, Gracie Salais played a long ball from the left side that Long finished from the far post for a 2-0 lead. Salais made it 3-0 with 5:47 to play before Forti scored for the Blazers off a corner kick with 1:44 to play.
“All season, I’ve been talking about how we started out as a young team and we’ve just grown so much and improved every day in game and practice,” said Smith, who was part of championships teams in 2018 and 2019. “It means so much and it’s maybe more special than previous years because we’ve worked even harder and the circumstances were so different this year after not playing last year. So I think it’s just really, really awesome.”
The Blazers, who claimed a 2-0 win over Mercy in Monday’s quarterfinal round, were disappointed with Wednesday’s outcome, but can look back on a strong season that might be a building block for a young core.
“We worked extremely hard from August until now to accomplish a lot of great things this year,” coach Val Teixeira said. “We went undefeated at home, competed hard head to head with McDonogh and Spalding and it just came down to a couple breakdowns here today that we lost the game, but I’m proud of this group. I think the future is bright and they have a great opportunity ahead of them with the next class coming up.”
No. 4 Archbishop Spalding 3, No. 5 St. Paul’s 1: Junior forward Danielle Gargano scored two second half goals – both assisted by sophomore Gabby Wisbeck to help send the Cavaliers (11-4) to Saturday’s IAAM A title game against McDonogh. Junior forward Sophie Thibeault gave the Cavaliers a 1-0 halftime lead before the visiting Gators (9-4) got a tying goal from Kira Balis early in the second half. Spalding goalkeeper Emma Murry finished with five saves.
Goals: NDP – Forti; M – Smith, Long, Salais
Assists: M – Haghgoo, Salais
Saves: NDP – Glagola 8; M – Lowney -- 4
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