With the state's finest pedigree, confidence has never been a problem with the River Hill girls soccer team when it comes to playing in the big championship game.
In Wednesday's Class 2A state final against upstart Hereford, the No. 2 Hawks quickly found added confidence with an early goal. The defending champions never looked back. After Bridgette Wang opened the scoring, Megan Chun and Juliana Grasso added first-half goals to set the tone for a 3-0 win over the No. 5 Bulls at Loyola Maryland's Ridley Athletic Complex.
River Hill finishes 17-2 and makes it 12-for-12 in state championship games.
Chun, Victoria Tran and Carly Wetzel — senior captains and four-year starters — were the driving force in this year's team. The trio close out their careers with three state title in four years.
"A lot of people don't get to say that they have made it as far as we have," Chun said. "I think it's sort of the tradition and something special we have at River Hill that every state championship game we've made it to we haven't lost."
Experience favored the Hawks and it showed up quickly. Their first significant opportunity of the game turned into a goal when Wang headed home a ball from Grasso in the game's seventh minute.
"Oh, my God, it's just such a relief. It's so great and also really great maintaining the lead and spreading them out," Tran said. "I think the previous state championships that we've won, that's what happened before. We scored early and tried to maintain the rest of the game. … I think this game, we showed that we can capitalize on our chances and that really worked to our advantage."
Chun made it 2-0 with 16:12 to play in the half, getting a pass from Tran before getting between two defenders to score from 14 yards.
The Bulls, who finished 15-3-1 and went into Wednesday's game on an 11-game winning streak, had came from behind to win games this season, but fell too far behind after Grasso made it 3-0 with 4:22 to play in the half. Despite playing a more composed second half, playing hard to the end with their best chances coming late, the Bulls were never able to recover, with much of the credit going to the Hawks sound defense.
"This team is not afraid being down — it's almost like they get comfortable at that point because it's like, 'Heck, we got nothing to lose now,' " Hereford coach Brad Duvall said. "It's kind of the way we played in the second half, but unfortunately once you get down three, that's a tough road against a really, really good team."
River Hill's back line — Wetzel at stopper, Danielle Poindexter at sweeper and Claire Kremer and Sophia Elguera on the flanks — was flawless. Hereford's standout freshman, Payton Patrick, came into the game with 22 goals and 15 assists, but was mostly kept away from the ball.
For the Hawks, it made for their usual complete team effort.
"I think these 22 girls had a tremendous season for us," River Hill coach Brian Song said. "Knowing where we finished last year, I knew we would have a target on our back because we had such a young team last year. And what they had to go through … and just how composed they were and [how they got] better each week just supporting each other to have the tremendous year."
After losing their leading scorer and team leader, Danielle Maggio, to an injury during the preseason, the Bulls were able to impressively figure things out and find their way to the championship game, an impressive feat in itself. Along the way, they claimed the Baltimore County championship, dethroning two-time defending champ Sparrows Point with two goals in the closing minutes for a comeback win.
"It was so much fun," Hereford senior midfielder Kara Schmidt said. "After four years of playing on varsity this was my first time being here, it was a great experience."
Goals: RH—Wang, Chun, Grasso. Assists: RH—Grasso, Tran, Poindexter. Saves: RH—Thompson 2; H—Arnold 7. Half: RH, 3-0.