Quantifying success is relatively simple — the teams that win the most games and championships end up being the most successful.
Quantifying effort is a whole different story.
Playing with minimal or no substitutions for much of the season, the 2018 Montgomery College women’s soccer team gave nothing short of a full team effort the past two months. Two former Northwest Jaguar soccer players were a major part of the teams’ success, even after moving up to the more competitive Division I of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
In their first season after moving up to Division I of the NJCAA, the Raptors won 12 of their last 13 games, won the Maryland Juco conference, and finished runner-up to four-time defending champion Harford Community College in the 2018 NJCAA Division I Region XX Women's Soccer Tournament final at CCBC Catonsville Saturday afternoon.
“It was a surprising season,” fourth-year head coach Phil Nana said. “I thought, graduating eight players last year, we were going to struggle this year. I wanted us to be .500 this year, which is win as many as we lose, and I also wanted us to advance out of the region.”
As you might expect, the 2018 Raptors squad features several former high school soccer players from all over Montgomery County, including two former Northwest Jaguars: freshman midfielders Ashley Zambrano Makenzee Hook.
MC did have a .500 record this year — for just four days in September. The team ended up going .800 on the year after finishing 12-3 and going on a 12-game winning streak that ended with a 4-2 loss to No. 1-seeded Harford in Saturday’s regional championship.
Harford struck first Saturday with a quick goal in the fourth minute of play, but sophomore midfielder Ariella Amaguana equalized in the seventh minute off an assist by freshman midfielder/goalkeeper Elise Couturier.
The Fighting Owls added two more goals in the first half to take a 3-1 lead heading into halftime. In the 65th minute, the Raptors cut the lead to 3-2 as sophomore midfielder Gabriela Fernandez scored with an assist by sophomore forward Viviana Rodriguez.
A fourth Harford goal in the 72nd minute would put the game out of reach for MC.
“With a depleted bench we only had 11 players to play with, no subs,” Nana said. “I’m surprised, [but] I’m super, super proud of this squad.”
The Raptors have made their presence felt in Division III the past few years, winning back-to-back Maryland Juco and Region XX championships in 2016 and 2017 and being nationally ranked as high as No. 2 on Oct. 25, 2016. They began 2017 ranked No. 4 after advancing to the semifinals of the previous season’s national championship.
MC’s first season in Division I started slowly, dropping its first two games which included a 2-1 loss to the Fighting Owls in Harford.
A dominant 17-0 shutout against Division III Monroe College - the Bronx on Sept. 15 would spark a spectacular turnaround that would lead to the team finishing tied for fifth in total goals scored and second in goals per game among Division I schools in 2018.
“I just think the girls did phenomenally,” Nana said. “I don’t think they get enough credit.”
Nana, who was named Maryland Juco Coach of the Year in 2016, was impressed with his team’s flexibility this season in having such a small roster and being Division I for the first time.
“We can make adjustments on the fly for especially getting players that don’t play the positions regularly to come up and play,” he said. “For example, we had Ashley Zambrano, who’s a holding midfielder. We pushed her up to attacking midfielder, sometimes playing striker, [and] she played phenomenally.”
Despite falling one game short in the regional tournament, the Raptors have a lot to be proud of this past season. They might not have had the numbers that other teams had, but they certainly showed huge effort to keep fighting for every game this year.
“We’ve got a lot of players who aren’t really high-level soccer players, and they had to learn a very intricate style of play in about a month,” Nana said. “They were able to do that, especially with really hard coaches pressuring them, so I’m just super, super proud of their effort.”
Top: Former Northwest Jaguar, now Montgomery College Raptor freshman Makenzee Hook (14) with the ball in 2018 NJCAA Division I Region XX Women's Soccer Tournament final at CCBC Catonsville Saturday.
Next: Montgomery College sophomore Gabriela Fernandez (7) and freshman midfielder Ashley Zambrano (12), a former Northwest Jaguar, defend against Hartford Owls midfielder Samantha DeCarlo (4) during Saturday’s NJCAA Division I Women’s’ Soccer Final.
Photos by Billy Owens for Germantown Pulse