Two years removed from its first and only state championship in girls soccer, Linganore was a win away Saturday evening from competing for another.
In the Lancers’ path, on their home field, stood Northern of Calvert, which returned 14 players after defeating Thomas Johnson last season to win the 3A state championship.
While the ebb and flow changed hands throughout the first 60 minutes, Northern ultimately took control in a physical contest, defeating Linganore 2-0 on a pair of goals in the second half from Patriots forward Rachel Deresky.
“I can’t be mad at these girls. They fought hard to get to this point,” Lancers coach Paige Pohopin said. “This is the best team we’ve played, and that could’ve been a state championship game. With the reseeding, that’s how it turned out, and for them to make it this far, I’m super proud of them.”
Northern (16-3) will defend its championship against Wilde Lake (10-4-1), which defeated Chesapeake of Anne Arundel 2-1 on penalty kicks earlier Saturday.
In an effort to contain Deresky, Madi Neall and Sara Eliff, the Lancers clogged the passing lanes and limited the Patriots’ scoring opportunities by dropping as many as nine players back in front of goalkeeper Becca Marakovitz.
“We knew they were going to pack in and bunker down on us, and we had to figure out how to break through that,” Northern coach John Battle said.
Northern was able to catch a break in the 61st minute, when the Lancers turned the ball over near midfield and Deresky was fouled just inside the box to earn the penalty kick.
Deresky drilled the ball past the sprawling Marakovitz to the right side of the goal, setting off a celebration with her teammates.
“I just tried to tune everything out and just focus on, ‘Right here, right now, it’s got to be us,’” Deresky said.
With the Lancers struggling to move the ball out of its own defensive midfield after top scorer Megan Mong-Kerwin left the game with an injury, Deresky added her second goal eight minutes later to put the Patriots comfortably ahead.
“We could see the momentum changing, and I think we started playing our game in the second half,” Battle said. “I didn’t want to win on a penalty kick, but I’m glad we got the second goal on top of it.”
Despite Pohopin frequently substituting to keep players fresh, the Lancers came out firing early and nearly broke the game open in the third minute on a shot by Mong-Kerwin that was saved by Patriots goalkeeper Emily Cummings.
Northern’s Nicole Bissett had the Patriots’ best scoring chance when she fired a shot in the 16th minute that Marakovitz tipped up and off the crossbar before securing in her arms.
“Honestly, [Marakotvitz] is my most improved player,” Pohopin said. “Coming into the season, I had no idea who I was playing at goalie with Lexi [Mills] and Becca. I looked at both of them and said, ‘Who wants it more?’ She has worked her butt off every practice, and every game she’s improving.”
Linganore almost broke through in the 55th minute on a corner kick by Samantha Hoefs that curled in on goal, where Cummings somehow emerged through a handful of players to corral the ball.
The Lancers, who reached the state semifinal for the fifth time in school history and fourth time in the past six years, ends their season at 11-4-1.
“I think [this season] shows how the underdogs can push through, and how much we can adapt to change,” Mong-Kerwin said.
Said Pohopin, “At the beginning of the season, there was a lot of negativity with the coaching staff changing, and I think that’s why they thought they couldn’t make it this far. Once [assistant coach] Mark Lastova and I were able to put our heads together, see eye-to-eye on everything, then they capitalized and played well together to get this far.”