Led by its senior class, once overlooked McDonogh, tops Mount St. Joseph for the MIAA A Conference soccer championship
by Gary Adornato and Joe DiBlasi
When the 2017 soccer season got underway the McDonogh Eagles were definitely listed among the contenders for the MIAA A Conference championship, but most prognosticators pegged them as the third choice behind Archbishop Curley and Mount St. Joseph. McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta didn’t necessarily disagree with some of the pundits logic, but he felt his team had an advantage in one key area which he believed most important – his senior class.
As the season played out, McDonogh’s seniors led the team to the forefront and by the time the schedule turned past the midway point the Eagles soared along as the area’s most dominate team, culminating in the school’s ninth MIAA A Conference championship, earned with a tough 2-0 win over No. 5 Mount St. Joseph, in the league title game Sunday evening at Anne Arundel Community College.
“Early in the league we heard a lot of talk, ‘hey, they’re in the mix, but not sure they quite have all the pieces. They lost this. They lost that, not sure they can get it done,’” explained Quaranta. “To their credit, Curley is a fantastic team. St. Joe, a fantastic team. Two of the best teams in the country to me and incredibly well coached, but I told them, I thought we had the senior class which is always the key in the MIAA. Having, not only a talented senior class, but the leadership in the senior class to win a championship, and I told them, when we first walked in for the preseason, I truly believed that no matter what other people were telling them.”
Quaranta’s seniors shined brightest on Sunday night.
In a tough, evenly played battle, with virtually no defensive lapses on either side, senior Brian Lenzer suddenly found himself wide open on the left side of the box with the ball at his feet and an open look at the goal in front. He put a charge into the ball and watched as it crashed into the back of net at the top of the goal, inside the near post, with 15:46 left in the contest.
“I saw Casey (Settleman). It was coming to his feet and he had a guy on his back,” said Lenzer in describing what he saw as his goal setup. “I was just hoping that it would slip through. I kind of anticipated that and it landed right on my foot. I had pretty much one-on-one with the goalie and I was able to finish.”
Even though nearly 16 minutes remained, the complexion of the game was such that St. Joe coach Mike St. Martin knew he needed to make an adjustment to get his team on the scoreboard, so he sacrificed his backline defense to get more numbers up top. The Gaels were able to create some chances over the next 10 minutes, but they also left themselves vulnerable in the back and McDonogh eventually took advantage.
“After we went down, we pushed three in the back,” explained St. Martin. “We had to get the equalizer. No sense losing 1-0, so we had a little less numbers in the back and they got that second one.”
Attacking in an effort to put the contest out of reach, McDonogh’s Andrew Privett ran onto a ball which broke loose in the box and drove it into the goal for the clincher, with 4:02 to play.
“It was a bouncing ball with a defender coming at me,” said Privett of his score. “I hit it as hard as I can and placed it in the corner. It ended up going in the goal and that secured the win.”
It all began, however, in the back for the Eagles and senior defender Jason Cyrus stated that the McDonogh defense grew stronger throughout the year.
“It was all about our partnership on the backline,” said Cyrus. “We built some chemistry over the whole season and it all came together. We have been practicing our shape and pressure in covering.”
Lenzer felt they Eagles saved their best effort for the final.
“This is definitely one of our best defensive performances,” he said. “With the effort we brought to the table, we were all relying on each other. Every single play mattered. It was, in my opinion, the effort and focus that allowed us to finish it out.”
On Mount St. Joe Lenzer added, “I have a ton of respect for their program and all the guys over there. They had a great team this year and I can’t imagine a better opponent. I have a lot of respect for them.”
Despite the obvious pain that comes with a tough defeat in a championship match, St. Martin could reflect with pride on his own senior class, which included his son Brett, an All-American who will play at the University of Maryland next year.
“I’m disappointed, of course, but I am proud of our seniors,” said St. Martin. “We had 16 this year and when they were freshmen we only had three wins. They believed in the program and what we were building. They stayed. They didn’t transfer and they worked their butts off. As disappointed as we were today, I was proud of the way they built the program and brought it back to where we have been.”
Quaranta believes McDonogh’s sustained success in the MIAA revolves around a commitment to core values within the program.
“We don’t talk about teams. We talk about a program,” said Quaranta who has now won two championships in his four years as the McDonogh head coach. “With that comes standards, certain things you want to have as part of your DNA. Part of that is to always be competitive towards the top of the league. The other part is character.”
In final analysis, whether it was the Eagle seniors, the program values or a combination of the two, McDonogh proved the pundits wrong with their performance on the field.
“A 20-2 record, in the MIAA, it’s happened five times in my life, I can think of, to have that good of a record,” said Quaranta. “That says enough, but the soccer we played towards the end of the year, we were the best team the last three or four weeks of the season. We were playing the best, we were getting the results and we deserved the championship.”
Pictured above: (From left) McDonogh senior captains Brian Lenzer, Casey Settleman, Aiden Welsh, Jason Cyrus and Jacob Steinberg pose with the MIAA championship plaque.
MIAA A CONFERENCE SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP
(at Anne Arundel Community College)
NO. 1 MCDONOGH 2, NO. MOUNT ST. JOSEPH 0
MSJ 0 0 — 0
MCD 0 2 — 0
GOALS: MCD-Brian Lenzer, Andrew Privett.
SAVES: MSJ-Ashton Carey 3; MCD-Kieran Baskett 2.