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Leopards not your average 10th seed

October 26, 2007|By ANDREW MASON and DAN KAUFFMAN

The résumé of the Smithsburg girls soccer team is hard to match.

The Leopards have won the last two Maryland Class 1A state titles and the last six West region crowns. This year, they went undefeated in the MVAL Antietam and finished the regular season with a 10-4-1 record. Two of their losses came against North Hagerstown, the No. 1 seed in Class 2A West, and the other two came against Linganore and Thomas Johnson, both 4A programs. Their tie was against South Carroll, last year's 2A West champ.

So what does all that get Smithsburg?

The 10th seed in the 12-team 1A West tourney. No first-round bye, and most likely no home games.

While it's easy to feel sorry for the Leopards, it's easier to feel sorrier for their opponents.

What thanks does Clear Spring (8-6) get for putting together its first winning season in five years? A first-round matchup with Smithsburg tonight.

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Boonsboro (9-4-1) was awarded the second seed, which comes with a first-round bye and home-field advantage until at least the region finals.

But if history repeats itself, the Warriors could be one-and-done at home. They host the Smithsburg-Clear Spring winner in the quarterfinals Tuesday. Smithsburg ended Boonsboro's season each of the last two years - in the region finals in 2005 and in the region semis last year.

"We always have to run into each other," said Boonsboro coach Kyle Lingg, whose team is 0-2 against Smithsburg this season. "You have to play through everybody, no matter who you line up with first or last."

"It's the old clich," Fowkes said. "You have to take care of business one game at a time.

"We're just looking at it as the playoffs. Throw away the seeds."

He said he doesn't regret playing a tougher schedule this season, even though the losses affected the Leopards' seeding.

"They were quality games. It's good when your players are challenged for all 80 minutes," Fowkes said. "In the playoffs, you can draw on those experiences."

He won't, however, say that the six-time defending champs are the favorites.

"It'll be a little more of a test having to go on the road," Fowkes said. "Boonsboro is going to be tough, but we're not looking past Clear Spring. And you have quality teams like Allegany (the No. 1 seed) and Mountain Ridge (No. 4), and Northern Garrett (No. 3) is an improved team.

"It's a region that could be open to five or six teams."

Cougars back in state semis

It's a different year and a different storyline, but the same result for Jefferson's boys soccer team.

In 2006, the Cougars were undefeated entering the playoffs and swept through sectional and regional play before falling in the state semifinals.

This season, No. 3 Jefferson (15-5-4) is playing the underdog role against teams ranked in West Virginia.

The Cougars defeated 18th-ranked Musselman 4-1 in the sectional semifinals and 11th-ranked Martinsburg 2-1 in the sectional final last week.

After a 5-4 win over upset-minded Berkeley Springs in Tuesday's regional semifinal, Jefferson finished its run back to the state semifinals with a 1-0 victory over fifth-ranked Robert C. Byrd on Thursday.

"Last year, we went in as the only undefeated team in the state," Cougars coach Doug Hunt said. "It's a very different mentality the boys have now with the underdog role, and I think it's been an effective role for us."

Three weeks ago, Jefferson was finishing a five-game stretch where the Cougars went 0-4-1, beset by injuries and disciplinary suspensions. But since a 3-2 loss to St. Maria Goretti on Oct. 2, Jefferson is undefeated, going 7-0-2.

"I told the team they need to get serious ... and after that, they started working better together, working harder and decided they wanted to turn it around," Hunt said.

Jefferson is led offensively by Chris Lambert (20 goals, six assists).

"He's one of the only players who's been on the field the entire season," Hunt said. "He's made a commitment to playing, he's physical, he's fast."

D.J. Upson (13 goals) and Chris Geigel (10 goals, seven assists) also are threats, while central defender Mike Springer anchors the defense.

Once he got (healthy), he solidified our defense and made a huge difference," Hunt said.

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