“All the coaches getting together, and having the conversation, we knew with the talent and athleticism we had, we knew we were going to have success,” Holtzner said. “Now, would that success be together with the team? We didn’t know that, quite frankly. We were moving girls around on the field, and we had a lot of girls who had specific roles on the team: you’re a dodger, you’re a shooter, you’re a feeder, you’re a transition player, they bought into the team aspect.”
Blandford and Creighton, both members of the Maryland United club team, are also the first pair of teammates to share the award. The honor was split amongst rivals twice before: Kent Island’s Jen Cosgrove and Saints Peter and Paul’s Julie Morse in 2008, and Queen Anne’s Mollie Stevens and Easton’s Paige Gamble in 2012.
“I think it’s so cool, because we’ve been playing on the same team since Scoopers,” said Creighton, who has already verbally committed to Elon University. “We’ve grown up together, we’ve always been friends, so it’s really cool to win this award with her. She is one of the most amazing players that I’ve ever seen. We play very similar, and we play off of each other, so it’s really cool.”
Creighton’s numbers were relatively modest by comparison to many other Mid-Shore performers, but when opposing coaches formulated game plans to neutralize Kent Island, limiting her was always at or near the top of the list.
Creighton finished with 19 goals, 14 assists, 45 draw controls, 58 groundballs, five caused turnovers and six takeaways, the hallmarks of an all-around player whose counting stats belied her true impact.
She missed the North Bayside-clinching contest versus the Warriors and then the Bayside championship against Bennett, played at Easton High. Her team won both of those games, further exemplifying the program’s depth and coaching prowess.
“Those few weeks, people were put in different positions, and we had to adapt,” Creighton said. “Our team adapts really well, and did extremely, extremely well. Of course, I would have loved to be out there, but I was really excited for my team, them getting that far.
“The team grows, no matter what,” Creighton added. “The dynamic was a little different (when I returned), but regardless of dynamic, regardless of what we had in our comfort zone, I think everyone knew we had to step up.”
Kent Island’s assistant staff of Karen Tengwell, Lindsay Dixon, Erin Murnane and Dan Hushion did a marvelous job helping Holtzner keep the team’s spirits intact while its All-American midfielder was on the mend.
“We wanted to have a theme for the season, and that theme was T.E.A.M — ‘Together, everyone achieves more’, and that meant a lot,” said Holtzner, who guided the Buccaneers to a 14-3 record, the most wins in a season in program history. “The girls all had their shooting shirts, and it had T.E.A.M. on the back.
“Coach Lindsay and Coach Karen, they emphasized ball movement, share the ball, one more, as a team,” Holtzner added. “On defense, we did the same thing, myself and Erin handled the defense, and we preached, ‘The most important person on the field defensively isn’t the person guarding the ball, it’s the other six players’. If we’re working together as a team, we’re going to have success.”
The selection of Creighton and Blandford does little to diminish the accomplishments of the two other finalists for Player of the Year: Easton midfielders Lexi McDaniel and Ellie Roser, both seniors, and both spearheading a bounce-back season for the Warriors.
Easton head coach Robert Smith, a close runner-up for the top coach recognition, took a precocious — if not overachieving — team to the cusp of the 2A East region final, along the way reeling off nine wins in a row en route to an 11-3 mark, including a defeat of Queen Anne’s that set up a the winner-take-all North battle with Kent Island.
“I think, beginning of the year, we knew we had a couple of players that were on the high end, but we weren’t sure we were deep enough to play against Queen Anne’s and Kent Island,” Smith said. “We knew Ellie and Lexi can play against anybody, they were definitely two of the four or five best players in the league.”
“I didn’t know we were going to be able to put it together with the freshmen and sophomores,” Smith added. “Ellie and Lexi were instrumental in bringing the freshmen and sophomores and getting them up to speed, to the level of competition.
“We figured out the lineup, and our goalie play was getting better and better,” Smith continued. “The biggest difference was when we started playing a more pressure-style defense and we gave Emily Griffith the freedom to come out of the cage and challenge. That’s when everything started to click for us.”
The depth, and the balance in output by the Buccaneers was ultimately too much to overlook, and too much for Easton to overcome in two, ultra-competitive matchups. Ten different Kent Island players scored at least 20 points last season, the go-to scorers often cheering from the bench as the games got out of hand.
But the games with the biggest implications, namely the two wins over Easton by a combined three goals, and an 8-7, overtime triumph over Fallston in the region final, all had some combination of Blandford, Creighton or a less-heralded teammate making clutch plays.
In the first game against the Warriors, an 11-9 Kent Island win, the Buccaneers erased a 9-7 deficit with four straight goals by junior Alley Heath, junior Rachel Ruffennach and