The Perry Hall girls soccer team had reached the state championship game five times before, each time watching the other team joyously pile on the goalkeeper, take photos with the bigger plaque and leave the field with the big smiles.
These 2018 Gators, an ideal blend of skill and grit and togetherness, were determined this would be their turn.
In Friday’s Class 4A final against Walt Whitman, Kara Dietrich made sure.
The senior forward scored two second-half goals to answer the Vikings’ sudden rally – sending Perry Hall to a thrilling 4-2 win over Whitman at Loyola Maryland’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
After the Vikings tied the score with two goals in a five-minute stretch – Dietrich was quick to restore order with the winning goal coming with 16:11 left and an insurance goal added with 7:04 to play. The goals, her 16th and 17th of the season, both came from 20-plus yards.
The Gators, who last reached the title game in 2016, finish their historic season with a 17-3 mark, reaching the title game with four playoff shutouts before showing resolve in fending off the Vikings’ second-half push.
“After they scored their second goal my heart kind of dropped,” Dietrich said. “But I knew we had to push and give everything we had. I knew I had to step up for my team and try to get a goal in and I got two, so it worked out well.”
At the postgame news conference, Dietrich and All-Metro senior Phoebe Canoles, a four-year starter, grabbed the championship medals that were around their necks at the same time and smiled at each other. The two, along with senior goalie Lauren Gwin and junior center back Aya Neal, were all starters on the 2016 team that fell in overtime to Walter Johnson, 3-2, in the team’s last state title game.
“These four years, it’s been my dream to win a state championship,” Canoles said. “All four years, we thought every year we were going to win it. We thought this was our year, that’s all we kept saying.”
“This year was just different. We knew that we were going to work harder than every other year. We didn’t really know going into every game, like we were definitely going to win. So every game, we just gave everything we had and got our state championship.”
The Gators got off to a good start when senior midfielder Annie Kim opened the scoring in the game’s 12th minute.
Canoles worked the ball down the left side and connected with Dietrich on a short pass. Dietrich took a couple of touches before hitting a shot from 18 yards that didn’t get through traffic. Kim was first to the ball, finding the lower left corner from eight yards for the early advantage.
After handling some persistent pressure from the Vikings late in the first half – their best chance came when Delaney DeMartino’s header went just wide on a free kick served in by Morgan Weise – the Gators seemed to take complete hold of the game when Canoles made it 2-0 three minutes into the second half.
But the Vikings stayed persistent and leaned on two precise free kicks from Weise to get back in the game. In a five-minute span shortly after Canoles made it 2-0, she served dangerous balls in front -- Grace Li heading home the first and Sophie Nichols putting away the second after an errant clear.
Prior to the Vikings’ first goal – which came with 25:10 to play – the Gators defense went 375 playoff minutes without surrendering a goal.
After the sudden turn, the Gators showed no panic with Dietrich proving to be the difference.
Perry Hall came into the season as one of the area’s finest public programs without a championship.
The Gators’ playoff path to the championship game was flawless at the defensive end with four clean sheets. Their toughest assignment came in the North region title game, when they got past Urbana, 1-0, to avenge last year’s loss in the same game.
From there, they dominated Eleanor Roosevelt, 10-0, in the semifinal round before getting past Whitman.
Goals: WW – Grace, Nichols; PH – Kim, Canoles, Dietrich 2. Assists: WW – Weise 2. PH — Wille, Neal. Saves: PH – Gwin 3; WW – Stender-Moore 2. Half: PH, 1-0