McDonogh’s Kelsey Smith, River Hill’s Caroline Duffy and Fallston’s Madison Ferrara are VSN’s 2021 Girls Soccer Players and Coach of the Year
by Nelson Coffin
After being robbed of a true season of soccer in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still impacting high school sports as we approach 2022, the 2021 fall soccer season was a welcome relief as it came off, largely, without a hitch and presented us with many amazing games and performances.
Also back are our post-season awards and the following ladies were the best of the best in 2021 as McDonogh’s Kelsey Smith was named our 2021 VSN Girls Soccer Player of the Year; River Hill’s Caroline Duffy was named our 2021 VSN Girls Soccer Defensive Player of the Year; and Fallston’s Madison Ferrara was named our 2021 VSN Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
Here are their stories:
2021 VSN 2021 GIRLS SOCCER
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Doubt could have crept into Kelsey Smith’s mind during 10 long months of rehabilitation for a torn ACL she sustained in August of 2020.
Yet when the season started for McDonogh School’s soccer team last September, the star senior was front and center with her knee — and unshakable confidence — intact.
Neither the injury nor the leadership duties required of a first-time team captain could slow down the 5-foot-2 midfielder/forward from her mission to collect yet another IAAM A Conference title for the area’s most successful program.
As she proved throughout the 2021 campaign, Smith was the undisputed go-to player for the No. 1 Eagles in more ways than one while being an easy choice as VSN’s Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
The Eagles (13-1) lost only once this season, falling to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference runner-up Our Lady of Good Counsel, 3-0, at the IAAM Challenge at Mercy in early September.
“When I saw her in that game, she looked like she was struggling a little bit, coming off that ACL (injury),” Mercy coach Doug Pryor said. “So I thought maybe we could beat them this year, but she really got her confidence back after that.”
“It took until the high school season to feel like myself again,” Smith, a University of Maryland commit, said about making a full recovery.
In the A Conference opener in late September that catapulted McDonogh toward a fourth straight championship win in November, she scored twice in a 3-0 victory over Archbishop Spalding.
“Spalding is our biggest rival,” Smith acknowledged. “That game gave us the drive and showed us how our program should be doing things.”
A week later, against VSN’s top-ranked team, Mercy, she notched the first goal in a 3-2 triumph.
After the Spalding game, McDonogh coach Harry Canellakis said that he was proud of Smith’s leadership as one of only three returning senior starters (Olivia Ozbolt and Maddie Lowney are the others) on this year’s squad.
“The way Kelsey has played recently has been incredible,” he told VSN after the game. “Spalding is so good, especially defensively, and Kelsey did a great job of breaking down such good defensive players. More than the goals, she’s been a leader and an example for our younger players.”
Exhibiting leadership was a new component to her game — and one sorely needed by players whose talent greatly exceeded their experience level.
“The last time being with some of these girls was during some practices (in 2020 before the season was canceled due to COVID-19 and before her injury required surgery on Aug. 22),” Smith said. “And some of the girls I had never met before. Harry and I It was something I was not used to, after going from underclassman to captain. That was super challenging for me.”
Her soccer prowess not affected, owing to her ability to win almost every defensive challenge she faced with quick feet, deft touches and a stinging shot that produced 19 goals and three assists this fall.
“I could score when we needed it,” Smith said. “I’m good at going 1-v-1 when I put my mind to it.”
That statement was proven time and time again, including in the playoffs when she snapped a scoreless deadlock in the second half against Notre Dame Prep in a 3-1 conference semifinal win.
In the championship match against Spalding, Smith once again delivered in the clutch by assisting sophomore midfielder Ada Morris’ “golden goal” midway through the first overtime period to garner a 1-0 triumph and the program’s record ninth title.
“Going into overtime, we knew we deserved it and this is what we wanted…we played with heart and gave everything we got,” Smith told VSN after the win. “I think that’s what matters.”
Pryor said that Smith was the most impactful player he’s seen in his 13 years of coaching against the Eagles.
“Even when they had Ashley (Spivey) or Bridgette (Andrzejewski), they had so many good players that they probably still would have won it (without them),” he said. “But this year’s team was so young that they might have gone .500 without (Smith). She was the one really dynamic — and most dangerous — player in the league, and she basically put that team on her back. She had a very impressive year.”
2021 VSN GIRLS SOCCER
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
RIVER HILL HIGH SCHOOL
River Hill coach Brian Song has brought nine state championships back to Clarksville, compiling a 245-46-11 record during his 17-year tenure.
With that background, there’s no doubt that he knows about as much as anyone what goes into succeeding in highly competitive Howard County — not to mention at the state level as well.
It takes winners — and he has had a great one in the goal for four seasons at River Hill in Caroline Duffy, VSN’S Girls Soccer Defensive Player of the Year.
The 5-foot-10 keeper was that good for Song and the No. 14 Hawks, who went 12-4 this fall and reached the state championship game for the 14th time while bowing to Mount Hebron, 1-0.
As Song put it, without Duffy in the goal there was little doubt that his team would have stood a chance to survive regional play.
“We had incredible stretch from October 12th through the state final,” he said. “We had an eight-game winning streak, and without her presence in the goal we would have been out in the second round of the playoffs.”
That second-rounder came against Atholton in Duffy’s most memorable performance of the season.
In recording her seventh shutout in the fall, the Duke University commit saved a penalty kick in a shootout following a scoreless deadlock before scoring a goal on the Hawks’ first 12-yard attempt.
“Atholton peppered me with shots that game,” Duffy said. “They dominated the game but couldn’t put one in.”
Duffy said that she does not like to guess where a shooter is planning to place a shot.
“The goal is wide enough that if they hit it hard, it’s going to go in,” she said. “So in high school, I don’t like to guess. I react to the shooter. it’s not like club ball.”
She would go on to produce two more shutouts, giving her seven in River Hill’s final nine matches and 37 total in a storied career in which she was already selected to the Howard County Times Girls Soccer All-Decade Team last December.
The Hawks allowed only eight goals all season, giving Duffy a sparkling 0.5 goals-against average while making over 100 saves.
She also knew that with an offense that notched just 27 goals — with nine of them coming in one game — all season, close games would be commonplace.
“Putting in one goal was imperative for us,” Duffy said. “Going down a goal was something we usually couldn’t pull ourselves out of.”
If that put more pressure on her, so be it, because that’s what she signed up for when falling in love with the position a precocious 11-year-old playing for the U13 Maryland United club team.
That when she first fully embraced being a goalie.
The three-time River Hill team captain said that she loves being in high-pressure situations.
“Some people think the position is boring,” Duffy said. “But in the last 30 seconds of a game when you have to be ready to make a big save, that’s really exciting. The challenge of the position is what drew me to it. Being able to make a huge impact on a game is really appealing to me.”
Song said that her mere presence between the pipes inspired her teammates.
“I knew she would keep us in every game,” he said. “I am very proud of how she carried herself on and off the field as an outstanding student athlete. She will have a great career ahead of her at Duke.”
Duffy chose Duke, she said, “because it checked all the boxes” she was seeking.
“I was looking to play soccer at the highest level possible,” she said. “And I wanted to be challenged academically, too.”
2021 VSN GIRLS SOCCER
COACH OF THE YEAR
FALLSTON HIGH SCHOOL
By the time the soccer campaign opened in early September, Fallston coach Madison Ferrara already had her team in mid-season form.
The Cougars, who had lost a regional final to Rising Sun in 2019, were looking to make sure 2021 would be different.
After four years as an assistant coach, Ferrara, who played soccer at Towson University, wanted to leave nothing to chance in her first year at the helm.
At a team meeting in June, she encouraged her seniors to set an example for the Cougars to work on conditioning and skills during the summer months and they responded in a big way.
“The seniors did all of that on their own,” Ferrara said. “They were so hard working — I knew then that they really wanted a state championship. Everybody was ready to go.”
Having lost the 2020 season to COVID-19, Fallston could have stumbled under a new coach with lesser resolve.
“Our mindset was to rebuild and develop,” Ferrara said. “We wanted our girls to know how to play the game.”
Fallston hit the ground running in September and picked up steam as the season progressed with Ferrara urging the Cougars to excel in all aspects of the game.
“From conditioning to technical drills, she pushed every single one of us until we thought we were done — and then she pushed us even more,” said Fallston goalie and tri-captain Jillian Crawford. “During the conditioning and drills we were all questioning what it was doing for us. Coach Madi would always assure us that all this hard work will pay off in the end, and you know what? — it did.”
Fellow senior Gabby Boyd, a midfielder, echoed Crawford’s account.
“Coach Madi came to us early in the summer and laid it out clear that this was our season to win if we were willing to work,” she said. “And work we did. Every practice was challenging and new, but she always reminded us that it would be worth it and that we need to keep fighting for each other.”
The Cougars clawed their way to an Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division title by knocking Bel Air from the unbeaten ranks in a 1-0 overtime decision with Crawford making six saves and junior center midfielder Katherine King scoring the golden goal on a penalty kick.
Fallston also claimed wins over C. Milton Wright and No. 15 Hereford while tying No. 12 John Carroll before absolutely exploding in the playoffs.
Employing a possession-based tactical 3-5-2 attacking-style, the Cougars overpowered Class 1A postseason foes by a combined 39-1 score on the way to the program’s fifth state championship.
The closing spree capped a 16-0-2 season for Ferrara and the No. 3 Cougars, who scored 81 goals and allowed just 8 reprisals the fall.
For lifting the Cougars to such lofty heights after not even being ranked in VSN’s Preseason Top 20, Ferrara is VSN’s 2021 Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
King, a tri-captain who totaled 14 goals and a healthy 31 assists this season, said that Ferrara had “big shoes to fill” at a Fallston program accustomed to excellence.
“Her performance as a head coach exceeded all my expectation (and my expectations were pretty high),” King said. “Madi pushed us to a level I did not know was possible at the high-school level. We ran, we worked, we pushed; it was challenging and many days I wanted to stop, but she would not let me. She trained us to be disciplined and precise, and, most importantly, she showed us how to work as a team and have fun.”
Ferrara, a former three-sport athlete at North Harford, told her troops that the tried-and-true mantra of taking the championship journey game by game was the way to approach the success they were having.
“We had to create new challenges so they never would get complacent,” she said. “Don’t just score one goal — keep fighting for more. Don’t settle.”
Structure and discipline were also applied in equal amounts.
“Even though I’m close to your age, I’m not here to be your friend,” Ferrara told the Cougars. “We both have jobs to do — you do yours and I’ll do mine. So let’s go out and get it done.”
Senior tri-captain Kennedy Mendoza said that all the paces Ferrara put the Cougars through were well worth the effort.
“I guarantee you there was not a moment that her belief of what we could accomplish wavered,” Mendoza said. “Although she believed in us from the beginning, she (got) us into shape, mentally and physically. The conditioning was vigorous and our playing time needed to be earned. By the end of the season, I was drained, but I was drained with a medal around my neck.”