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Though small, Sparrows Point and Manchester Valley girls soccer teams play big

Manchester Valley's Lizzie Colson, right, runs past Liberty's Abbey Butler in a recent game.
Manchester Valley's Lizzie Colson, right, runs past Liberty's Abbey Butler in a recent game. (Steve Ruark, For The Baltimore Sun)

Feel free to tell the Sparrows Point girls soccer team that it comes from a puny Class 1A school. The same goes for the Manchester Valley girls.

Both teams love to hear it. The banter makes them work even harder. It brings them even closer together.

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And it makes it that much more impressive when they beat out much larger schools for titles.

On Wednesday, No. 7 Sparrows Point (12-1) captured its first Baltimore County championship by edging defending champion Catonsville, 1-0. It was the second time this year that the Pointers — with the second-smallest student population among 24 Baltimore County schools — got the better of the Class 4A state power, with a 3-1 win over the Comets coming during the regular season.

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Earlier this month, No. 13 Manchester Valley (12-1-1) knocked off Liberty, 4-1, to claim a share of the Carroll County championship with Century. It was the first county title for the sixth-year school, which is the smallest of eight public schools in Carroll.

"We're so tiny, but we're doing so much," said Manchester Valley junior forward Lizzie Colson, who had two goals and an assist in that Oct. 14 win over Liberty. "It's just awesome to see such a small school putting in so much work. It means a lot to us, and we're all smiles."

Both Manchester Valley and Sparrows Point have enjoyed major success in Class 1A.

The Mavericks won state championships in 2011 and 2012. Sparrows Point beat them, 2-1, in the semifinals last year on its way to winning its first state title in the program's 10th tournament appearance. If both teams can navigate through their respective regions and the state semifinal round, they would meet for this year's 1A title.

This season, however, both have shown they are much more than a powerhouse among the small schools.

The Pointers are 5-0 against Baltimore County's Class 4A schools and have won by a combined 15-4 margin. Class 1A schools in the current cycle have average yearly enrollments of less than 683 students, while schools in Class 4A all have at least 1,260.

Does it generate any extra satisfaction for a 1A school to beat an opponent twice its size?

"Absolutely," Sparrows Point coach Joe Lambert said. "It's a huge source of pride, especially when we're going up against the really big schools. Catonsville is a huge school, and so is Perry Hall, and when you walk away with a win against those teams, it's definitely a greater sense of accomplishment."

Sparrows Point and Manchester Valley are cut from the same cloth.

They have strong feeder programs and regularly get high numbers of students out for tryouts (each around 50 for varsity and junior varsity) because girls want to be part of the success.

Both teams have clutch scorers. Junior forward Jamie Shiflett has 24 goals for the Pointers, including the game-winner in the county championship game, and Colson has 18 for the Mavericks.

Both teams handle adversity like there's nothing to it.

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After Shiflett gave Sparrows Point the 1-0 lead over Catonsville, the Pointers withstood a relentless second-half push to earn the county crown. When Liberty tied Manchester Valley early in the second half, Colson scored 30 seconds later and the Mavericks then pulled away.

Perhaps the biggest similarity is that neither team holds back.

Manchester Valley is one of the few teams around that plays with three forwards.

"They're quick, they're aggressive and they capitalize on their set pieces," Century coach Sara Figuly said.

Century, the reigning Class 2A champion, has won every game within Carroll County over the past three years — except those against the Mavericks. (The teams have played to double-overtime ties in each year.)

Sparrows Point banks on high pressure. If the Pointers lose the ball, they swarm to get it back.

"They are very fast and physical and they can intimidate an opponent simply because of how fast and physical they play," Catonsville coach Gary Lynch said. "If you go watch Brazil, you know what to expect with their style. Sparrows Point has their style. They have it down pat and are good at it."

Instead of talking about the disadvantages that come with being from smaller schools, both teams like to discuss the advantages.

Sparrows Point junior sweeper Barb Foster believes her team is closer than others because of the school's size. Fewer hallways means more chances to run into teammates during the day.

"We're together more, see each other more in school, so we're all close friends," she said.

The sense of togetherness is why Manchester Valley senior defender Stephanie Colson is not surprised when she sees so many girls come out for the team every season, despite the smaller pool of prospects.

"I think we have fun together, we really bond and we work really hard because we want to win," she said. "The fact we have so many kids try out really helps. It's just cool to know that even though we are the smallest school, we still expect to do big things."

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