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Leopards' foe knows success

November 15, 2002|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

Big surprise, huh?

Oakland Mills is back in the Maryland Class 1A boys soccer state final.

The Scorpions - who've won a state-record 11 state titles - will be aiming for their fifth crown in the last six years Saturday when they face first-time finalist Smithsburg at noon at University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

But Oakland Mills fans beware. Up the road in Smithsburg, the Leopards - guided by second-year head coach Paul Newman - have been laying the groundwork for their own winning tradition.

Last season, Smithsburg rebounded from a 5-9-1 2000 campaign to go 11-6-1 and win its first West region title. Now, the Leopards are 14-4-1. The 14 wins are a school record, as is the 10-game winning streak they're on.

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"It's all kind of new to me," said Newman. "I've been really lucky. I've had really good kids, kids that work hard and play as a team. And at this level, that's how you win."

While winning is all Newman has really known with Smithsburg, the Leopards coach also knows his success pales in comparison to what's on Oakland Mills' resume.

He said that could work for or against his team Saturday, especially in the early going.

"There's good and bad," said Newman. "It's new to our kids so they're excited and will really work hard.

"But when they go out and look at the field, it's going to be a big stadium. And the fact that they're playing in the state championship will make them nervous. The first part of the game will be easier for (Oakland Mills) to adjust."

Win or lose, though, there's no denying the Smithsburg program is moving forward.

"You don't want to look at a game and say it's OK for us to lose, but it really is," said Newman. "We've never made it to the finals before. Until last year, Smithsburg had never even been to a region final before.

"Of course, the kids will be disappointed if they lose, but if they sit back and think about it, they'll be excited. It's the next step we've wanted to take."

But no one in Smithsburg is thinking about losing right now. After getting just a small taste of the final four last year, the Leopards - who routed St. Michaels 6-1 in the semifinals Wednesday - are ready for the big feast.

"We were happy with how we did last year," said junior striker Gerry Spessard, who leads Smithsburg with 15 goals and seven assists. "This year, we weren't going to settle for just region champs. We want to go all the way."

For the Leopards to go all the way, they'll have to penetrate Oakland Mills' stalwart defense. Newman is well aware of that, especially after watching the Scorpions shut out Rising Sun 2-0 in Wednesday's other semifinal.

"We're not going to give away too many secrets, but the way to beat them is to play the ball wide and push the ball forward in a hurry," he said.

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