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Leopards' defense at final stop

November 18, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

The Smithsburg girls soccer team's defense of its 2005 Maryland Class 1A state title has just one hurdle remaining.

For the fourth time in six years, the Leopards have reached the championship game. Smithsburg will face Perryville on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

The Leopards (16-3) defeated Sparrows Point 2-0 in last year's final. Smithsburg shared the title with Loch Raven in 2001 and lost to Poolesville in two overtimes in 2002.

"I just think we're very fortunate over the last four or five years that we're always losing four or five quality players but we've been capable of bringing up quality players from the JV and giving them that experience, so that next year when they're in the playoffs, they know what it's all about," Leopards coach Bill Fowkes said.

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Fowkes' team-first philosophy is in evidence on and off the field. There is no one superstar who dominates play, although the Leopards have plenty of talent with which to overwhelm opponents.

"We stress our slogan, 'We, not me,'" Fowkes said. "Team chemistry is so important. We do team activities and have weekly team dinners. Everyone gets along so well."

Forwards Shelby Layman (22 goals, eight assists) and Chelsea Hoover (17 goals, 12 assists) and midfielders Katie Seifarth (12 goals, four assists) and Cara Jordan (three goals, 12 assists) are the catalysts of the Leopards' potent attack. Smithsburg can strike in a variety of ways, whether with the quick-touch possession game, the long-ball game or on set plays behind Jordan's powerful right leg.

"Shelby provides us with a lot of speed, while Chelsea provides us with finesse," Fowkes said. "They compliment each other well. Katie and Cara really get things going from midfield."

While they may not get as much attention as the other four players, Fowkes said midfielder Tessa Doyle and defender Lindsay Vega are important pieces of the puzzle.

"Tessa can be dangerous if given an opportunity," Fowkes said. "Lindsay also has stepped up and done a nice job for us."

Smithsburg's strong attacking style, combined with solid two-way play from midfield, takes a lot of pressure off the defense, anchored at the back by keeper Kirsten Cacciola, who has given up just 11 goals in the 16 games she has started.

"Our midfield has done a good job all year with transition play," Fowkes said. "They do defend well."

Fowkes said the Leopards watched Perryville's state semifinal matchup against Snow Hill "for 20 minutes" after Smithsburg defeated Sparrows Point 2-1 Monday in the first semifinal at Broadneck High School. As such, there's no firm scouting report to fall back on, but that may not matter.

"We scout the teams we play to see where we can exploit weaknesses, but there have been games where we've switched to the philosophy of let's play Smithsburg soccer, play to our strengths and make them adjust," Fowkes said.

Only one game stands between the Leopards and their ultimate goal.

"It's the ol' cliche, 'One game at a time,'" Fowkes said. "You have to keep in mind any team can beat you on any day. We must stay focused."

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