Padecky: Team concept drives Maria Carrillo’s success

Sarah Sullivan, right, goes up for a header against teammate Alison King during Tuesday's practice. Sullivan says the great success Maria Carrillo has experienced creates “a lot of pressure on us.” (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

Sarah Sullivan, right, goes up for a header against teammate Alison King during Tuesday’s practice. Sullivan says the great success Maria Carrillo has experienced creates “a lot of pressure on us.”
(Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Talent in sports is useless unless it learns how to share. Share the spotlight. Share the playing time. Share the compliments. Coaches have driven themselves to gray hair trying to figure how to get players to play for each other and not themselves.

Here’s one way.

Every Monday the 22-member Maria Carrillo girls varsity soccer team huddles together.

They begin “If You Really Knew Me.” What is said in that circle stays in that circle. Family problems. Boy troubles. Grades dipping. Anger flares. Whatever. Anything and everything. No judging. No mocking.

On Thursday, Sept. 5, the Carrillo girls were on the field of McDonogh High School in Owings Mills, Md.

They had arrived hours before on a cross-country flight. They would play McDonogh on Friday and Our Lady of Good Counsel on Saturday.

At 10 p.m., 30 minutes into practice, the lights went out in the stadium. Total darkness. Not even a distant streetlight to create a shadow.

Cool, the girls thought. They looked to the sky, saw stars. They remembered the surrounding buildings. A bit like American Gothic architecture, stately, clean, but a little eerie. Cool, one girl said. Let’s sit down in the middle of the field and begin “If You Really Knew Me.” Cool, said another girl, and why not tell scary stories since it’s dark. Cool, they all said. Pitch black, after all, is made for goose bump tales.

This is one of those stories.

Sitting in the circle with her team, head coach Debra LaPrath began her story innocently enough. She was 16. She was a sophomore at Mira Mesa High School in San Diego. She was at LaJolla Beach one night with friends. They had a bonfire going. She had to use the public restroom. So did two of her friends. LaPrath remembered, dark as it was that night, she had entered the handicapped stall, that feeling of openness which comes from sensing an expanded place. She began doing her business.

From the far corner of that handicapped stall came a male voice, piercing the darkness and branding LaPrath with a memory she has never been able to shake.

“Don’t mind me.”

LaPrath screamed. Her two girlfriends screamed. LaPrath never looked in the direction of the voice. She bolted from the stall and, like her two friends, exited the building in various states of undress, not embarrassed one iota.

The reaction from the 22 girls, two moms and two other coaches?

Well, that the Owings Mills police didn’t come and issue a citation for a noise ordinance violation, that’s still a mystery.

The girls howled. The girls screamed. The girls bounced off each other. The girls were disbelieving. Really? Are you serious? Some of them were creeped out, immediately. Some took a little longer, like 30 seconds. Remember, LaPrath told her story in total darkness. And they kept saying the same thing, over and over, it was the best scary story. EVER.

It’s now Tuesday, 12 days later, and that story is getting as much airplay among the team as it did when they first heard out.

A girl will walk behind another girl in practice and whisper quietly in her ear, “Don’t mind me.” The girl will scream. Everyone else will laugh. Monday, when LaPrath told the story to The Press Democrat, five of her girls were there and they acted just as they did Sept. 5. They couldn’t hear it enough. One day they’ll be grandmas and, I bet, they’ll tell this story to their grandkids.

“I had never told that story before in public, just in front of a few friends,” LaPrath said.

But with that story LaPrath was showing her girls she was walking her talk. Here’s her story, which once was a very private one.

But now they know their coach a little more. Yes, sure, she’s the authority figure, but LaPrath is also skin and bone and blood and emotions and, well, you know, just like them.

“That’s what ‘If You Really Knew Me’ does,” LaPrath said. “We get to know each other more and more. We get closer.”

They share stories, troubles, secrets. They reveal stuff that maybe they never have revealed before. Such intimacy creates trust and a loyalty as well.

One doesn’t share a trouble in a hostile environment. The result? The Carrillo girls bond, become a team in the truest sense of the word. When it comes to Carrillo girls soccer, unity is nearly a necessity, considering their surroundings.

“When we wear that emblem of Maria Carrillo on our uniform,” Hannah Ricker said, “we are a target for other schools.”

“We have a lot of pressure on us,” Sarah Sullivan said.

“We have a lot to prove,” Katie Prosser said.

Such is the weight of success. Carrillo went 20-0 last year, ranked first in the country. They have won the last four North Bay League titles.

They have won four North Coast Section titles under LaPrath. Not counting 15 ties, the Pumas have a 77.8 winning percentage in LaPrath’s 17 years. When they played those two schools in Maryland earlier this month, Carrillo was ranked 10th by the Fab 50, an elite soccer ranking website. They beat McDonogh, 4-3, a team ranked fourth nationally at the time, and tied Good Counsel 0-0, which was ranked sixth nationally.

“It showed we could play with the best teams in the country,” Rachel Sellner said.

It also showed that Carrillo, 5-0-1 so far, also hasn’t lost a step or, worse still, let ego disrupt a good thing.

“We all have been on teams in which there definitely has been a hierarchy,” Ricker said. “That doesn’t happen here. We all have made a conscious effort to prevent that from happening.”

If you want to play girls soccer at Carrillo, you can’t hide, carry a separate agenda or otherwise feel the team is there for you.

No one walks alone. No one is allowed to walk alone. And the coach, while she may be the one in charge, isn’t afraid to show she’s vulnerable, too.

“That still freaks me out,” LaPrath said.

No one is more human than when they scream in fear.

Unless it’s the person who screams back.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

 

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