The Sparrows Point girls' soccer team has won six consecutive state titles, but the Pointers face a few challenges during the 2019 season.
First, they lost some key players from last year, including midfielder Julie Lynch, now at West Virginia. Overall, head coach Lori Sexton said they lost four starters from the 2018 team that finished 16-0 and claimed a sixth straight title, which is a state record for any of the four classes in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
But the Pointers won all of those championships in Class 1A and the school moves up to Class 2A this year. That's a big challenge because there will be many tougher teams waiting on the horizon. However, Sparrows Point did get two pieces of good news as three-time defending state champion River Hill moved up to Class 3A, as did Baltimore County rival Hereford.
Losing some key players and moving up a class while trying to keep a state-championship streak going can be a tough task, but Sexton said her players are ready to roll.
"I definitely think 2A is a harder road," Sexton said. "In 1A, there wasn't as much good competition, but now we're going to see it more often."
Sexton said pressure from the team's success exists. They know it and feel it, but she's confident this year's group can come together and do big things.
It just might take some time.
"You feel the pressure; you wonder about 2A," Sexton said. "People say, 'Oh, now you're 2A.' I have confidence that we have the ability to do that if we work hard. If we work hard and meld as a team, I think we can do it."
The Pointers' biggest problem comes from losing three of their four starting midfielders, and Sexton said that's where their game is really powered from, but they do have junior Jade Weir back as the lone returning starter. Three of the four starters returned on defense, including juniors Abby Meadows and Jaimee Hausner.
Plus, senior goalie Jaddah Foos returns to anchor the defense from the back. On offense, Alayna Jerome, another senior, returns to start.
Jerome said the shift to Class 2A will be something new for Sparrows Point, but the squad will be ready to answer the bell.
"Every season is always a challenge for us," Jerome said. "Moving up to Class 2A does put some more pressure and similar competitive teams, just like us, to match up and play. Plus, there are some new teams we have never played before that we play against so that will be a challenge."
Jerome said observers need to remember the Pointers still return several players who either started or played a role in the past few championships. Now, they need to get the freshmen, who Jerome says are a bit nervous, into the mix.
"Most of the girls we have played with us the previous year, so we all still work pretty well together," Jerome said. "Everyone on the team definitely has the skills and determination to win against each team we play, but we still are slowly getting more comfortable with each other [at] each practice and scrimmage. We all just have to keep putting in the work at practice, and I think we'll be pretty set for the season."
One of the advantages the Pointers also have is that they've seen just about every situation possible, especially in big-game, high-pressure contests. They've continually played well in win-or-go-home games, and that's an advantage.
Hereford coach Brad Duvall said Sparrows Point understands how to win.
"Their kids play hard and know what it is like to win, which makes continuing winning much easier," he said.
Joe Lambert was the longtime head coach until moving over to the boys' team in 2017. So, for Sexton, this will be her third year running the team. She also was an assistant under Lambert and has had a hand in five of the six championships.
It's not easy to move up a class and win a state title, but it's not an impossible task. Last year, Sparrows Point beat Class 4A Perry Hall in the regular season (4-3) and in the Baltimore County championship (1-0 in overtime). Perry Hall won the Class 4A state crown last season.
The Pointers have won four of the last five Baltimore County titles. Sexton said moving up a class after spending the last six years dominating at another class will simply keep her girls more alert all the time.
"It's going to keep us up on our toes," Sexton said. "It's going to keep us motivated and on our toes. We'll be aware that nothing's a free ride. I'm hoping this gives the girls motivation. We're definitely going to be on edge."
No matter who they play, when they play or where they play, the goal remains the same for Sparrows Point. This team wants a seventh straight state title.
With six straight state titles, the Pointers have already set a record it will take another team at least three years to match. Class 2A River Hill is the only other team with a championship streak (three straight years).
Sexton said last year's seniors loved walking away from their high school career with championships each season. This year's group of seniors wants to do what last year's seniors did -- win four state titles -- and they're spreading that message to the younger players.
"I think it helps because the seniors say, ‘We really want to get that fourth,'" Sexton said. "They're really motivated. They really want to win. Every win that we have will be well-earned."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lori Sexton
Issue 257: September 2019