With a promising blend of experienced players and newcomers, the Spalding girls soccer team has set out to leave the field better and more together each and every day this early season.
Tuesday’s performance against visiting Perry Hall was another prime example.
The No. 3 Cavaliers got two fast goals from freshmen, scored two second-half goals on set pieces and stayed composed in the back throughout despite missing two starters on defense.
Once again, the Cavaliers continued their pledge in leaving their home field with a 4-0 win against the No. 7 Gators. In improving to 4-0 on the season, they have scored 14 goals and have yet to surrender a goal.
“We came into the season growing and our motto is being resilient, and we’ve been that,” said junior midfielder Sophie Thibeault. “To start with, we had a lot of team bonding, which helped build chemistry and we don’t see it as being freshmen or seniors. We’re all the same. We all can score, we all can play the same minutes and we just work hard for them to earn your spot.”
On Tuesday, freshman midfielder Riley Wills took a feed from Thibeault and scored five minutes into play to set the positive tone. Fellow freshman Olivia Nardone made it 2-0 with just 10 minutes gone by.
After watching his team put in a strong showing against top-ranked Mercy in a 1-0 loss on Saturday, Perry Hall coach Matt Smoot was disappointed with the Gators’ (1-2) lack of urgency at the start on Tuesday.
“We just made a couple mental errors and really didn’t come with the intensity we needed to start the game, and when you don’t have that against a strong, athletic, intense team, if you don’t match that with your ball movement, you leave yourself open to counters. They got two up on us, and we deflated a lot after that,” he said.
The Gators had a couple chances to make it closer early in the second half, but the Cavaliers defense didn’t budge. Forward Kamryn Williams won space down the left side, but Spalding defender Adriane Skelton did well to recover and knock her off the ball. Minutes later, forward Mariah McQueen made a strong run with the ball down the right side before getting fouled at the edge of the box to earn a free kick. Hannah O’Guinn placed a low, firm shot from 20 yards that went wide of the far post.
The Cavaliers closed out the win when midfielder Reagan Mallia, one of two seniors on the team, hit a free kick from 20 yards that deflected off a defender in front with Danielle Gargano closest to the ball to get credit for the goal.
Another free kick sent in from Mallia was alertly redirected by sophomore Gabby Wisbeck and put in by Emily Hoyt in front to close out the scoring.
“I think we’re taking what we learn in practice and really doing it in games and all our hard work is what’s pushing us through against other teams right now,” said Mallia.
Having lost 12 seniors from last year, Spalding coach Ashly Kennedy is continuing to identify each player’s strength and what each can bring to the team. She is emphasizing the culture the program has built and the expectations that come with it.
“I think the team has 100% bought in. They are bought into the culture and now we’re starting to see players step in and see them shine more,” she said.
On the Perry Hall side, Smoot praised the strong work put in by his senior midfielder and captain Kyleigh Gough, who did all she could to hold down the middle with a tireless performance.
The Gators are an inexperienced team with an opportunity to make some noise in Baltimore County and the state playoffs.
Smoot hopes the demanding early-season schedule can help prime the team for future success.
“It depends on how we learn from it and rebound,” he said. “I’m going to put a large amount of blame on myself because I think I need to be harder on these guys. I think our practices and our approach needs to have a higher level of intensity and that’s my job as a coach to make sure that’s there, so that won’t be an issue.
“We’ll focus on that and if we can match that intensity, strength and grit with our ability to move the ball and we can bring everybody up to the same skill and fitness level, I think we could be in games like this and definitely be successful in Baltimore County.”
The Cavaliers will visit Arundel at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, while Perry Hall will travel to Patapsco for a 4 p.m. game the same day.
Goals: AS — Wills, Nardone, Gargano, Hoyt.
Assists: AS — Thibeault, Wisbeck, Mallia.
Saves: PH — Jankowiak 5; AS — Murray 2.
Half: Spalding, 2-0