Today or tomorrow?
Linganore girls soccer coach Howie Putterman posed that simple question to his players in a group text message at around noon Tuesday, when several athletic directors around the state had already made the decision to postpone playoff games or were on the verge of doing so because of inclement weather forecast for virtually the entire day.
“Within five minutes, nine of them [said], ‘Tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight,’” Putterman said.
Midfielder Fiona Rowan counts herself as one of the players who didn’t want to postpone a Class 3A West Region final against visiting Westminster.
“A lot of us were saying we’ve mentally prepared ourselves, and we were ready for this,” Rowan said.
They were prepared to win, which is exactly what Linganore did, bolting out to a two-goal lead over the first 20 minutes before coming away with a 3-0 victory that gave the Lancers a berth in the state semifinals.
Linganore (13-1-2) will host the winner of today’s Class 3A North region final between Towson and Bel Air on Saturday at a time to be determined.
After Tuesday’s game, Lancer players held up their index fingers while posing for a group picture, a gesture that signified that they were the top team in the region. Before they dispersed, Putterman held them back for a few more seconds, bellowing out, “This is our third region title in four years!” The declaration drew even louder hollering from the Lancers, who took pleasure in the fact that they had accomplished what many outside the program felt was beyond their reach.
Linganore graduated nine seniors — eight of them were starters — from a team that fell in the region semifinals last year.
“There was a lot of skepticism of how our team would be,” said Rowan, who assisted on all of the Lancers’ three goals. “A lot of people in the county were like, ‘Oh, we’re not afraid of Linganore. This is our chance to finally beat them,’ because we’ve been so strong all these years.
“I just think we kind of handed to everybody, saying, ‘Hey, we’re not too bad.’”
The Lancers and Owls (9-5-3) met on Sept. 18, and Linganore jumped out to a 2-0 lead before watching Westminster rally in a game that ended in a 2-2 tie. Since then, Putterman saw his team transform from a collection of players that were “unfamiliar with each other” to playoff-ready.
“We’re a completely different team than we were the last time we played them, and that was our goal: to show them that,” he said.
It didn’t take very long as Rowan possessed the ball in the middle of the field in the third minute and delivered a perfect pass to her left to Juliana Zeller, who snuck in a shot inside the far post.
“In the beginning, after the first goal, it felt like we were going to win,” said Haley Barge, the team’s leading goal-scorer.
Barge extended the lead when, off a corner kick in the 20th minute, the ball pinballed to Rowan on the left side of the field. Rowan then served the ball into the box to Barge, who headed the ball inside the right post.
Linganore’s lead would have grown if not for some strong play in goal from the Owls’ Sydney Popielski, who made a nice leaping save on Barge seconds after the Linganore forward had scored. Popielski finished with three saves.
At halftime, Putterman warned the Lancers about the Owls’ rally in the previous meeting between the teams, and team members were quick to follow his words with rallying cries.
“[Grace Pritchett] told us to keep our foot on the gas and keep going strong,” Barge said.
Putterman said he was certain that Westminster coach Todd Muschik “was over there telling them that they had already come back from down 2-0 on us once before and that they were going to do it again. So, we needed to bury the game in the first 5 [minutes of the second half].”
The Lancers obliged in the 42nd minute on a give-and-go between Rowan and Barge, who ran onto a through ball and buried a shot from the top of the penalty box. Westminster may have enjoyed an edge in possession over the early stages of the second half, but Lancers goalkeeper Maddie Cunningham, who wasn’t tested much in the first half, made three saves on long-range shots from the Owls.
In the end, Putterman, who along with Linganore athletic director Sonny Joseph also wanted the Lancers to play on Tuesday as opposed to today, was rewarded for having his players play a big role in deciding the scheduling for the region final. In the second half, Linganore and Westminster played in steady rain, with temperatures in the high 30s.
“We were better than we were earlier [in the season], and it was that confidence in their game and their ability to play the game that, when I asked them in pouring rain today, ‘Who wants to play?’ they were like, ‘No, we’re going to take them tonight.’”