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Hawks soccer team falls to Essex in regional final

By DALLAS COGLE

Staff writer

All good things must come to an end. Even a record-setting season for the College of Southern Maryland women’s soccer team.

The most winningest campaign in Hawks history failed to continue breaking ground Saturday when they were edged by Essex, 1-0, in the Region XX championship game at Harford Community College.

Fresh off capturing its second Maryland Junior College Conference crown on Oct. 19, last attaining such a banner in 2000, CSM (11-4-1 overall) was highly confident it could claim the outfit’s first regional title eight days later amid a celebrated year that featured the most wins and best win percentage in program history.

But defensive-minded Essex, which battled CSM to a 1-1 tie during the regular season in late September, notched a first-half goal in the 28th minute and made the slim lead hold up the rest of the way against a Hawks offense that had been explosive, scoring 34 goals in its previous seven contests — all wins.

The last time the Hawks had not won prior to Saturday’s regional final was the previous clash at home with Essex in September.

“It was definitely disappointing,” CSM head coach Adam Sanchez said of the tight season-ending setback. “Anytime you fall short of your goals, it’s a disappointment. The girls were visibly upset. At the same point, this shows the great progress of the program. We expected to win that game. I don’t think you could say that about CSM teams in the past.”

As the top seed in the region, CSM automatically earned a spot in Saturday’s final of the three-team tournament. Essex was seeded third and knocked off No. 2 Harford in last Thursday’s regional semifinals via penalty kicks to advance to the final.

The Hawks won the Maryland JUCO with a 6-1-1 mark, while Essex (9-6-2 overall) was fifth in the nine-team league at 4-3-1 during the regular season.

Paige Augustyniak registered the sole goal of the regional title tilt.

Goalie Katlynn Red amassed four saves for Essex in recording her sixth career shutout while being named the regional tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Red also thrived in the semifinal round with her clutch goalie work during the determining penalty kicks against host Harford, the Maryland JUCO runner-up.

“It just wasn’t our day [on Saturday],” Sanchez said. “The girls fought hard, they didn’t quit. We knew their defense was going to be good. Their defense keeps them in games. Hat’s off to Essex. Defensively, they played fantastic. At the same time, I didn’t think we got the breaks we normally get.”

Winning the regional title advances Essex to the District L championship this Saturday to face Region X winner Louisburg from North Carolina. The winner of that district contest earns a berth into the Division I junior college national tournament in Florida.

CSM was without freshman Erica Southworth (Calvert High School graduate) for the regional final due to an illness, which kept her from even traveling to Harford with the team. Southworth tallied 10 goals this season.

Freshman Katie Howard (Northern), who had a meniscus tear, and sophomore Staci Stamp, hampered by a medical condition, continued to be out of commission for CSM for the regional final, each going down a couple weeks back.

Still, CSM took enough firepower into the regional final to get the job done headlined by freshman scoring machine Alysse Houston (St. Mary’s Ryken), who had been on a tear with 12 goals in the team’s previous five games, including a hat trick in each of the final two contests of the regular season.

“We were a bit shorthanded. We knew a couple days before [the regional final] that [Southworth] was not going to be able to go,” Sanchez said. “Obviously, she could have helped us. But even with the squad we played with, we still loved our chances [to beat Essex]. We still considered ourselves a favorite.

“When both [Howard and Stamp] went down two weeks ago, the girls we put in the starting lineup for them — Sydney Williams (North Point) and Taylor Williams (Lackey) — didn’t miss a beat. We had been playing well until [the regional final].”

CSM created a few prime scoring opportunities in the first half against Essex but failed to finish them.

“We probably should’ve put them away and it would’ve been a different game,” Sanchez said. “[Essex] packed it in [defensively] in the second half. They knew if they got one goal that was enough. They pushed their players deep [defensively] and that made it difficult to get too many chances [after they scored in the 28th minute].”

Given its tested mettle versus a difficult schedule, CSM felt this postseason would be as exemplary as its banner regular season. The Hawks expected to add regional and district titles to their team’s resume this year while making noise at the national tournament.

But a stalled offense in the regional final kept their postseason from taking off just when it was getting started.

“We finished with an 11-4-1 record, which is fantastic, and won the Maryland JUCO,” Sanchez said for how his club viewed its memorable year despite being disappointed by the outcome of the regional final. “The girls had a great time and a great experience. So that’s something to keep their heads up about.

“If you would’ve asked people four years ago if we’d be in a regional championship game and expect to win it, I think they would’ve laughed.”

Four years ago in the 2008 season, CSM was just 3-7 as a club team.

Sanchez arrived to the program in 2009 and steadily began building it into a winner. Even a year ago with a 6-7-1 mark, CSM displayed signs of being a contender against a formidable schedule.

“I schedule the hardest teams we can play,” Sanchez said. “Last year’s team was really, really good but just didn’t click [with winning]. This year we put it all together and were able to get quality wins.”

The CSM coach indicated that he has a plethora of talented returners slated to come back next year with promising prospects set to sign with the program in December.

“I would consider us a contender every year,” he added.

dcogle@somdnews.com