This weekend marks a point in the season that any Southern Maryland Athletic Conference head coach would have wanted their team to still be playing soccer in when the season began.
On Saturday, five teams from SMAC will play in a state semifinal contest with a berth in the championship game at stake with a coveted victory.
The Leonardtown Raiders boys soccer team is the lone team left playing from St. Mary’s County. The Raiders, under head coach Robert Hor, are undefeated at 18-0 on the season.
“This Raiders team is truly special, and a family,” Hor said. “Early in the season, we gave up individual and selfish ways and embraced what it takes to have an uncommon brotherhood. Now we are on the verge of something huge, but we are not done yet. We are still hungry for two more victories.”
After claiming four consecutive SMAC championships, including one over La Plata this fall, the Raiders have not been able to have their success versus SMAC opponents translate at the competitive 4A regional tournament level over the past few years.
That changed on Oct. 29 when the Raiders claimed a Class 4A East Region II championship with a 3-2 win over Severna Park. Then after the classification was reseeded after regional play, the Raiders received the top seed and picked up a 5-0 win over Montgomery Blair last Friday night to advance to the 4A state semifinals.
“Our goals are to win the state championship and continue to work to do that,” Hor said.
“This is a big step for Leonardtown,” Raiders senior Casey Cruz added. “We have more work to do and we will work hard.”
Leonardtown will face fourth-seeded Arundel High School in a 4A state semifinal at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gaithersburg High School. A win puts the Raiders in the state final next week at Loyola University in Baltimore against the winner of the other state semifinal that has third-seeded Wootton taking on second-seeded Walt Whitman in an all-Montgomery County contest.
In 2A boys, the La Plata Warriors and head coach Chris Butler, in his final season at the helm, will square off with top-seeded Parkside of Wicomico County at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.
“We are humbled to be in this situation,” Butler said. “The boys have put in a lot of work during the offseason and starting August 15th. I try to remind my players that we turned the season around when we started to focus on playing sound team defense.”
The fourth-seeded Warriors hold a 12-4-1 record on their 2019 campaign and will look to hand Parkside its first loss of the season on Saturday to earn a spot in the championship game next week at Loyola against the winner of sixth-seeded Century of Carroll County and second-seeded Oakdale of Frederick County.
“We are going to have to play extremely well this weekend as Parkside is undefeated on the season,” Butler said. “I don’t know much about them as they are from Salisbury so what we will do is focus on the things that make our team successful.”
On the girls side, three SMAC teams are determined to punch their tickets to a state championship.
In the Class 1A bracket, the sixth-seeded McDonough Rams under head coach Dave Bradshaw will look to get over the hump on Saturday after reaching its fourth straight Class 1A state semifinal.
“The girls have shown tremendous growth this season,” Bradshaw said.
The Rams entered the 2019 season looking to replace 10 starters from last year’s team that garnered a SMAC Potomac Division and 1A South Region title.
“Replacing 10 starters is not easy, they embraced the process and continued to develop trust in each other as the season progressed,” Bradshaw said. “I am proud that we endured through many trials, but played hard to the end of each game regardless of the score. Our goal was to play our best soccer in late October and early November. I believe we are playing our best soccer of the season.”
McDonough (9-8 overall) is scheduled to face seventh-seeded Loch Raven of Baltimore County at noon Saturday at Northeast High School in Pasadena in a 1A state semifinal contest. The winner plays eighth-seeded Patterson Mill of Harford County or fourth-seeded Smithsburg of Washington County next week in the state final at Loyola.
“Loch Raven is a solid program with a winning tradition,” Bradshaw said. “We are honored to have the opportunity to play against them in a state semifinal.”
In 2A girls, fifth-seeded Calvert under head coach John Baker will face top-seeded Century at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Blair in a state semifinal contest. The winner gets third-seeded Middletown of Frederick County or second-seeded Rising Sun of Cecil County in the state final next week at Loyola.
The Cavaliers hold a 12-3 overall record and have outscored their last three opponents 30-2 to reach the Class 2A semifinals.
In 3A girls, the Northern Patriots have their goals set on going back-to-back after capturing the program’s first 3A state title a year ago.
“I think it’s going to be important to play as a team and try to get that state title again, that would be pretty cool,” Patriots senior Taylor Tolson said.
Northern (15-3) has topped St. Charles, North Point, Huntingtown and Harford County’s C.M. Wright on its way to a berth in the 3A state semifinals for a second straight year.
The second-seeded Patriots will battle third-seeded Linganore at 5 p.m. Saturday at Linganore High School in Frederick. The winner gets either fifth-seeded Wilde Lake or top-seeded Chesapeake of Anne Arundel County in the state final next week at Loyola.