Over and over during the past few days, Mercy freshman midfielder Payton Schenning kept hearing her older teammates say how good McDonogh’s girls soccer team was and, as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, the statement was valid.
Schenning’s reply was this: “We’re good, too.”
On Thursday, in stunning fashion on the No. 1 Eagles’ home field, the No. 4 Magic proved it. Schenning scored a memorable goal late in the first half and the Magic defense handled every urgent push the Eagles presented in a busy second half.
When the home team’s last chance sprayed wide of the goal, the realization hit as the Magic swarmed to senior goalie Alivia McDermott to celebrate a 1-0 win.
For Mercy’s senior class, it was the first victory over the two-time defending Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference champions as they handed the Eagles their first home loss since California-based Maria Carillo beat them on Sept. 6, 2013.
Mercy improves to 7-1 and 2-1 in the IAAM, while McDonogh falls to 6-1 and 2-1.
All season long, Mercy coach Doug Pryor preached to his young group to believe they can stay with the top teams in the league and they did even better on Thursday.
“For the seniors, we’ve been losing to them like 6-0 and 7-0 over the years, I told them here’s a chance of a lifetime to do something going up against the No. 1 team in the country on their field,” Pryor said. “And they probably didn’t believe me at first, but once the game got going they believed a little bit more. … It wasn’t pretty, but we got a real nice goal and then scrapped.”
The teams played on even terms in the first half, but Schenning was clearly the best player on the field. After hitting the crossbar on an earlier chance, she made sure not to miss on her second opportunity to give the Magic a 1-0 lead with 4:20 left before intermission.
After earning a free kick at midfield, senior defender Claire Geier delivered an ideal ball to the middle that Schenning ran on to and cleanly volleyed home from eight yards.
“I was surprised,” she said. “As a player, I have to learn how to finish and place the ball where it needs to be and I think I did that very well today. It was a perfect service and you just have to relax and follow through with the ball.”
There was no relaxing for the Magic in the second half. Schenning left the game in the opening minute with an ankle injury — she didn’t return until there was six minutes left to play — and the Eagles pressed for the equalizer.
The Magic showed they are learning day by day.
Last week, they surrendered two one-goal leads to No. 2 Archbishop Spalding in falling, 3-2, with the Cavaliers scoring twice on corner kicks in the second half.
Thursday, the Magic successfully contended with seven McDonogh corner kicks in the half in protecting the advantage. McDermott finished with six saves and Geier led the tough play in back.
“Everyone thought we would never beat them and we finally did. It’s like an accomplishment for us and all the [IAAM] teams because they’re the rivals for everybody and so good,” Geier said. “They’re the no. 1 team in the nation, so beating them means we can play with anyone.”
Added Schenning: “As a freshman, I came in and everyone said they’re so good, they’re so good. And I’m thinking we can beat them and we’re good too. We can play with anybody and we just have to play every minute hard and we didn’t give up.”
As the second-half minutes seemed to be going by quicker and quicker for the Eagles, who did all they could to score, it simply wasn’t meant to be after a slow start to the first half and most chances not hitting the mark in the second. Their best chance to tie came with 14 minutes left when Kemper Robinson put a shot on goal from the right side that was turned away by McDermott and then the rebound try in front by Kalli Wethern was cleared by a defender.
“I think teams come here and play like they’ve got nothing to lose. Mercy played so freely and we just had the hype of the No. 1 ranking and stuff like that and we played very tight, especially early on in the game,” said McDonogh coach Harry Canellakis. “Honestly, Mercy played great — they’re way better than they’ve been in the past and played great.”
The Eagles, who have won five of the past six league titles and seven overall, can now completely focus on their biggest goal of winning another championship.
“We just told them the only thing that matters is how you respond,” Canellakis said. “Obviously, there’s going to be ups and downs and a little failure because that’s part of playing competitive sports, so it’s really about how you respond.”
Goals: Me -- Schenning. Assists: Me -- Geier. Saves: Me -- McDermott 6; Mc – Lowney 5. Half: Me, 1-0