Talk about being efficient.
One clean shot on goal is all the Crofton High’s girls soccer team recorded during Thursday’s Class 3A state final at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex. It was all the No. 7 Cardinals needed, plus some stellar defensive play, to upend defending and fifth-ranked Mount Hebron, 1-0, to secure the team’s first state title in the program’s second season.
“I’m still trying to soak everything in,” said Crofton coach Travis Bonfigli, whose squad finished the 2022 campaign with a 15-3-1. “It’s been an absolutely amazing run with these ladies. Fifteen weeks ago, we sat in the gym for the first practice of the year and . . . I said, ‘This team has the potential to do great things this year if we can be unselfish, if we can play as a team, and if we can do the little things.’
“I don’t want to say that they exceeded my expectations because I thought we would be here at some point. They’re so talented and hard-working.”
After struggling to gain possession for much of the first half, similar to the team’s 1-0 state quarterfinal loss to Mount Hebron a year ago, the Cardinals opened the game’s scoring on their first shot of the match with 11 minutes, 33 seconds remaining. That’s when Crofton center back Ruby Shoots sent a free kick into the right side of the penalty area, where leading playmaker Meghan Piazza headed the ball to her left to a wide-open Cassidy Nichols, who chipped the ball into the goal.
“I knew coming into this game there were not going to be many opportunities,” said Nichols, whose Cardinals were facing a Vikings squad that had surrendered a mere five goals in 16 matches with 11 shutouts. “And I knew that if I got the chance in the box, I needed to take advantage of it and score. So when I saw the ball in the air, I just attacked it.”
With the offense doing its part, Crofton’s defense stole the show the rest of the way, including some key saves by junior goalkeeper Abby Makela on a few powerful strikes by Mount Hebron (13-3-1), including a left-footed boot by Maria Brogno.
The Cardinal backline of Shoots, Nora Snyder, Emily Wingeart, and Grace Fay limited Viking shots, despite the Howard County squad holding possession for a majority of the match Thursday.
“It’s just sorting out marks, communicating, and getting the ball out quick,” said Shoots, who anchored a defense that did not surrender a goal during the postseason. “I have a really great group of girls who play back there with me.
“My other center back, Nora (Snyder), she covers me all day. If I have to step, she’s there. It’s really just a connection that we have working together.”
Bonfigli said a favorable draw, including the ability to host both the state quarterfinal and semifinal rounds in Crofton before heading to Loyola University Thursday evening, also worked out in his squad’s favor.
It’s the second state championship in less than a week for the Anne Arundel County school, which opened its doors in the 2019-20 school year. Saturday, the Cardinal field hockey team won the Class 3A title over River Hill at Stevenson University.
The loss ended Mount Hebron’s hopes for a second straight state 3A championship after defeating Howard County rival River Hill, 1-0, in last year’s final. The Vikings allowed less than two shots on goal per game on the season, including one on target in Thursday’s state final and two altogether.
The title win caps a two-year run that saw the fledgling program secure 26 wins.
“When it hit two minutes, I looked at my outside wing, Arya (Shah) and we looked at each other, and we knew we just won a state championship,” Piazza said. “Before the whistle even blew, I think that we were running right back to Abby. I don’t think any of us realized that we actually just won a state championship.”
CLASS 3A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
at Loyola University/Ridley Athletic Complex
NO. 7 CROFTON 1, NO. 5 MOUNT HEBRON 0
Mount Hebron 0 0 - 0
Crofton 1 0 - 1
GOALS: Crofton - Cassidy Nichols.
ASSISTS: Crofton - Meghan Piazza.
SAVES: Mount Hebron - Claire Fitzsimmons 0; Crofton - Abby Makela 5.