by Derek Toney
The first half of McDonogh School’s girls soccer match with Archbishop Spalding Saturday night played like the Eagles’ match against Mercy in late September with missed scoring opportunities. McDonogh lost that match, sending shockwaves through the IAAM A Conference.
With the IAAM A championship glass bowl on the line Saturday, the Eagles again found their groove. McDonogh won its third straight title with a 3-1 victory over the Cavaliers at chilly CCBC-Essex.
Junior forward Baylee DeSmit tallied twice for the Eagles (17-1 overall), and University of Tennessee recruit Lilly McCarthy added a goal and assist. Freshman midfielder Sophie Thibeault tallied for Spalding (14-2-1).
The Owings Mills school cobbled three straight goals in the second half, winning its eighth IAAM A title in 10 seasons. The eight titles, all under Harry Canellakis, are the most in IAAM history.
Canellakis was proud of his team’s latest title, especially after a 1-0 home loss to Mercy as the country’s No. 1 squad.
“I think people were surprised, we were surprised with the way the players handled themselves in that game,” said Canellakis, “and the bounce back from that game, and just having to fight through adversity in that moment — because I felt like we played really well after that — is really what I’ll remember about this year.”
“It was very humbling, kind of like pulled us back to earth and we were like, ‘We are not losing anymore, that’s an awful feeling and [we] pulled ourselves together,” McCarthy said.
Another loss, this time on the penultimate stage, simply wasn’t an option for the Eagles, who created several scoring opportunities to no avail in the first 40 minutes Saturday.
Finally, in the 60th minute, DeSmit and McDonogh broke through. DeSmit received a pass from McCarthy and placed shot from about 15 yards into the right corner of the net.
DeSmit, who’s emerged in the clutch in several big games the last couple of seasons, said the effort was for her senior teammates.
“It was a lot of halftime talk of not going out with a loss and fighting for each other, especially our seniors,” said DeSmit. “We didn’t want to end some of their last games as a loss. We all wanted this one very badly.”
DeSmit and McCarthy each tallied over the next 15 minutes to punctuate the Eagles’ second straight season without a loss to their Anne Arundel County rivals. McDonogh collected 1-0 decision over the Cavaliers at Whittles Field nearly two weeks ago to clinch the No. 1 playoff seed.
Last season, the squads played to a 2-2 tie in Owings Mills before McDonogh put together a near flawless effort in a 5-0 whitewashing in the title match at Anne Arundel Community College.
Spalding, the only team other than McDonogh to win the IAAM A since 2009, was up for the challenge in the latest chapter of the area’s top girls’ soccer rivalry. The Cavaliers had chances in the opening half, but McDonogh’s speed and skill opened clean opportunities.
Once the Eagles broke through, Spalding coach Ashly Kennedy said she had to switch defensive alignments to create more offensive chances.
“[If] you don’t do that and you sustain it, they probably wouldn’t have gotten those last two goals. They both came off deflections,” said Kennedy. “When you’re down, you have to make some adjustments.”
It was a season of adjustment for the Cavaliers, who graduated 14 seniors off the 2018 squad. Spalding lost to twice to McDonogh and tied perennial District region powerhouse Good Counsel.
“I’ve never seen a team that is built around the chemistry this team had this year, and I'm so proud of them,” said Kennedy, who completed her 7th season in Severn. “The expectations going in, losing 14 seniors…the way players stepped up and contributed in different ways brought our team together, really unified us.”
The Eagles, ranked No. 9 nationally by USA Today, will be again the team to beat in 2020, with championship game starters Olivia Ozbolt, Cecily Pokigo, DeSmith, Kemper Robinson, Kelsey Smith, Alayna Lycnhard, Aria Bilal and goalie Maddie Lowney scheduled to return.
"Our chemistry is really good which helps every team in winning," said Smith, a sophomore midfielder. "We're all like best friends, sisters. We go through everything together. At school, we're always together and we love each other, so we just play like that."