Parlaying one crown into another
Cardinals trio hope youth title experience will pay off in MIAA
Calvert Hall soccer stars Ben Alexander, Chris Carroll and Seth Walker shared an incredible experience when their club team, Pipeline SC, claimed a US Youth Soccer National Championship over the summer.
In winning the under-17 division, Pipeline overcame a loss in its opening game of pool play, fended off area rival Baltimore Celtic, 1-0, in the semifinals and beat Virginia-based Loudoun, scoring the first goal in the championship game.
It’s no wonder that, after the final whistle blew in the 2-1 title game win, Walker said it took a couple of days for the accomplishment to sink in, adding: “Putting the national championship T-shirt on was so surreal.”
Now, the trio — friends since they were 8 years old and all three-year varsity players with the Cardinals — want to put what they learned to use this fall. Their thinking: How cool would it be to lead No. 1 Calvert Hall to a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference crown, too?
“It was a great experience winning the national championship and especially doing it with Chris and Seth,” Alexander said. “Hopefully, we can carry over the chemistry and contribute to an MIAA championship. Knowing how to win — the right way to play when you’re leading and the right way to attack a game when you’re losing — I think that experience is really valuable and can definitely help us.”
After finishing 13-6-1 last season — reaching the league semifinals for a second straight year — the Cardinals, ranked No. 1 with a 4-1 record, are poised for a breakthrough season.
They have several returning starters and received a bonus when standout forward Brady O’Connor returned to the team after playing in the U.S. Development Academy last season. There’s a buzz around campus with high expectations for the season.
The electricity is expected to be high tonight when No. 2 Archbishop Curley (6-0-1) visits for the 15th Reif Alumni Cup at 7 p.m. at Paul Angelo Russo Stadium. Last season at Curley, Alexander scored twice to Seth Walker, left, Chris Carroll, center, and Ben Alexander, friends since age 8, will help lead No. 1 Calvert Hall against No. 2 Archbishop Curley tonight. lead the Cardinals to a 3-1 win, ending a five-game slide against the Friars. Curley has won seven games in the series, while Calvert Hall has won six with one draw.
The Cardinals’ ultimate goal, however, is playing in — and winning — the season’s last game to bring home the program’s first MIAA A championship since 2003.
“It’s not going to be easy — no game in the MIAA is,” Carroll said. “We can’t look into the rankings too much and just need to play our game and I think we can get it. It would not only mean a lot to us, but also the school and especially the alumni. It would be great to win a national championship and then come back to win here. That kind of pressure is nice to have.”
Calvert Hall’s hopes start — from the back end to the front — with Walker, Carroll and Alexander.
Walker is the team’s holding midfielder, who uses his size and skills to shut down opposing team’s threats before they materialize. He dominates in the air, wins many of the balls in his vicinity and is effective in getting the ball forward. Carroll is a dynamic playmaking center-midfielder who can beat defenders one-on-one, thread passes to teammates and score goals. He has a special connection with Alexander, an old-school forward who uses his size, athleticism and aggressiveness to work his way into the box and finish off chances.
Having played together throughout the summer at such a high level — the club national title game was July 31 — the three plan to carry their sharpness and intensity into the high school season.
“They’ve come in and worked hard immediately and it’s nice to have guys that have played together for a continuous period of time — playing throughout [club] regional and nationals throughout the summer. It’s a nice threesome right there in the middle of the field and we have quality players around them who feed off of them and their energy,” Calvert Hall coach Rich Zinkand said.
McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta knows what his defending conference champion Eagles will be up against when they face the Cardinals. He is also a coach and club director for Baltimore Celtic, and several of his standout players have won national championships and carried over the success at McDonogh.
“When you’re playing at that level and successful at that level, there’s a confident boost that comes with it,” he said. “They’ve found ways to win games against some of the best teams in the country. Along the course of the ride all the way through, you have to find different ways to win games and I think that replicates the MIAA pretty well. So I think in that sense, finding ways to win games in a variety of ways against top-level competition is a great transition and it certainly helped our program over the years and I’m sure it will be an asset to Calvert Hall this year as well.”
The trio learned so much about themselves and their team during their successful run this summer. Walker said Pipeline probably wasn’t the most talented team in the national field, but played the hardest and found ways to win.
In winning the championship game, Alexander, who scored a team-high four goals in the tournament’s five games, said it would have been easy to roll over when trailing by a goal in the second half, but coming back to score two goals and win showed character he had never experienced. Carroll saw it, too. “I think we found a certain calmness within the team. Being down 1-0 in the final, we didn’t lose our cool and just kept playing our game. I think that’s something we need to carry over,” he said. Howard won, 25-16, 25-14, 25-19. NO. 6 ATHOLTON D. NO. 4 CENTENNIAL, 3-1: Lisa Zoch had 21 kills and Elise Park had17 digs as the host Raiders (2-1) upset the Eagles (1-2). Atholton won, 26-28, 25-11, 25-22, 25-23. NO. 9 SEVERNA PARK D. ANNAPOLIS, 3-0: Ally Winship and Angela Cottrell had six kills and the Falcons (4-0) beat the host Panthers (0-3).
Severna Park won, 25-16, 25-10, 25-19.