The McDonogh girls soccer team, fresh off a 3-0 win over No. 1 Archbishop Spalding, celebrated a little more than usual Wednesday.
This season, the No. 5 Eagles are mostly a young group with only three starters back from their 2019 team that won a third straight Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship.
Those three returning senior starters — goalkeeper Maddie Lowney, midfielder Olivia Ozbolt and forward Kelsey Smith — did much of the heavy lifting in Wednesday’s league-opening win, but the younger Eagles followed their leads.
Lowney made two point-blank saves with the game scoreless in the second half, Ozbolt quickly followed with the first goal and Smith took over from there with two goals to seal the victory.
It was something new for the younger players, but it was vintage McDonogh soccer for the senior trio. The Eagles improved to 5-1 on the season, while Spalding fell to 5-2.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Smith said. “The start of the season, we knew we had a young team and we’ve just been working really hard in practice to try to teach the young ones how we play ... I’m really proud of them and how hard they’ve worked to keep the same level we had before.”
From the start, the Eagles consistently got to the ball first and created scoring chances, but were unable to break through in a scoreless first half.
In the second half, after the Cavaliers’ Sophie Thibeault made a strong counter and forced Lowney to turn back two shots from in close, the Eagles responded with the all-important first goal from Ozbolt, who knocked home a rebound from eight yards on their 13th corner kick.
“We talked about being aggressive in the box and keep pushing on them because eventually we’ll get a goal. It felt great,” Ozbolt said. “The excitement afterward is the best feeling in the world, especially against one of our biggest rivals.”
Smith said Lowney’s work at the other end inspired the team.
“Maddie made two super good back-to-back saves and I think that really raised the energy for us too because it showed how much we really wanted it and we’re not going to let down,” she said.
Dangerous every time she had the ball, Smith hit a left-footed strike from 16 yards to make it 2-0 with 15 minutes left before scoring again with under five to play.
With his team coming in with a 4-1 mark, Eagles coach Harry Canellakis liked what he saw in the season’s biggest game to date.
“We were confident, but also with a young team you never know what you’re going to get in a big game like this,” he said. “The kids were really fired up and sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes they could flame themselves out. So I was really happy with the work rate, I was very happy with what we were doing in the attacking third and I thought we were smart the way we defended.”
Despite struggling to find any rhythm on the offensive end, the Cavaliers defended valiantly and gave themselves a chance to win with the game still tied into the second half. Junior center back Meghan Bernetti was the focal point in the strong defensive effort with poise and dominant play in the air.
Spalding coach Ashly Kennedy was most disappointed by the Cavaliers’ inability to match the Eagles’ intensity and execution.
“Going into a big rivalry game when you have the energy across the board — the environment is very energetic — I think McDonogh did a better job of being more composed and on the ball and with their decision making,” she said. “I feel like we got a little rushed and not as composed when we did win the ball in our transitional moments. I think even from not just a coaching perspective but from a spectator perspective, if you’re seeing the game, you saw that. It’s something we have to learn from.”
Goals: M – Ozbolt, Smith 2
Assists: M -- Haghgoo
Saves: S – Murray 8; M – Lowney 6, Schaller 1