River Hill girls edges Walkersville for their 13th MPSSAA state title
by Gary Adornato
The dynasty that is the River Hill girls soccer team lives on.
The Hawks won their third consecutive 3A state crown with a hard-earned 1-0 win over Frederick County’s Walkersville, Friday afternoon, at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex. It was River Hill’s sixth title in the last seven years and their 13th state championship overall.
The game’s only goal was scored by senior Brigette Wang, the team’s leading scorer, with 29:53 to play in the second half. The Hawks dominated from that point, but needed a brilliant save by freshman keeper Caroline Duffy, with 33 seconds to play, to preserve the victory and the championship.
Those two big moments aside, the Hawks had a tough time just getting to Loyola.
First, the team was geared up to play on Thursday, as originally scheduled, but had to adjust to an early start time on Friday when snow forced a postponement. Then, just a few miles from the stadium, the team’s bus broke down on the trip over Friday afternoon.
“It just seemed to grind to a halt just as we turned onto Cold Spring Lane,” said River Hill coach Brian Song. “I was ready to call Uber and get a bunch of cars to pick us up, but fortunately our driver got the bus started again.”
It was symbolic of the Hawks season-long struggle to evolve into a championship team.
According to Song, the team never played the same lineup twice over the course of its 17-1 campaign. With the graduation of so many long-term stars off of last year’s team, Song compensated by mixing and matching his lineups all season.
Those struggles, combined with the early energy of Walkersville, made for a slow start for River Hill, as neither team generated many offensive opportunities over the first 20 minutes.
The Hawks picked up the pressure over the final 20 minutes.
Senior Hailey Cho poked a bouncing shot wide left, at the 24:50 mark. With 9:50 left in first stanza, Wang triggered an 18-yard shot, off a crisp cross from the wing, but it was easily scooped up by Walkersville keeper Jazzmin Salters, who had a clear view of it.
The Hawks best chance of the first half came with 1:41 remaining when defender Juliana Grasso came froward to put a head on a corner kick, sending it over the the goal.
River Hill’s tempo was much better in the second half and the pressure built until Wang finally broke through.
Junior Chelsea Baker triggered the play with a free kick from the left side, 40 yards out, which she drove into the box. The ball was blocked out to the top right side of the box where it found Wang. She struck a low diagonal shot inside the left post for her team-high 14th goal of the season.
“I knew where I was running when that ball came in,” said Wang. “Typically it’s not going in on the first time and it is rebounding out to that general area. I was surprised to have so much time on it. I really did have time to let it come down to my feet, to a really comfortable position, pick my head up, frame it and put my shot in the corner.”
The Hawks continued to create opportunities, pressing for a clinching second goal, but it never came. That fact almost came back to haunt them when Walkersville countered attacked in the game’s final minute, nearly getting the equalizer.
Junior Kasi Ogwulu, who scored 13 goals this fall to lead the Lions, got off a hard shot in the box, which was deflected off the knee of a River Hill defender. It appeared headed for a certain own goal, but Duffy made a spectacular one-handed stab at the ball, blocking it into the left post before it was cleared.
“I had a heart attack,” said the talented freshman keeper.
“Off of a jumble, the ball hit off of one our player’s knees and off of my hand and the post helped me out.”
Song thought for sure the game was headed to extra time.
“I was thinking, here’s overtime,” said Song, who has guided River Hill to nine of its 13 state titles. “I saw Caroline’s hand reach out and I was like, Thank God. She’s come through for us all year long.”
Walkersville (13-5-2), which made its first ever appearance in the state finals, was a team no one expected to see at Loyola, perhaps even the Lions themselves.
“We knew we were good, but we never thought we would make it to states,” said sophomore Maggie Molnar. “It just kept building and when we beat Middletown, our rival, in the playoffs, we knew we had something special.”
It was a special journey according to Lions’ coach Paul Bryan.
“This was everything I was told it was going to be with regard to the excitement and the ride,” said Bryan. “We took it in stride and gave everything in every game we had.”
2A GIRLS SOCCER STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
(at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex)
NO. 4 RIVER HILL 1, WALKERSVILLE 0
WALK 0 0 — 0
RHILL 0 1 — 1
GOAL: RHLL-Brigette Wang.
SAVES: WALK-Jazzmin Salters 5; RHLL-Caroline Duffy 3.