“When I have the ball I try mostly to stay composed and not panic or anything, and that helps to keep everything kind of calm,” said Small. “That’s the way I try talking to my teammates to try to keep everyone focused and have them make smart decisions also to keep them composed.”
Stacked with talent all around her, through her play and leadership, Small was a conductor of the Bruins’ undefeated journey to the state title and a clear choice as Voice Media Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
Small, 16, has played soccer since third grade and has also run track at Broadneck, but since joining the Bruins’ varsity team as a freshman, she’s developed into one of the top midfielders in the state.
“She’s just a great all-around athlete,” said Broadneck head coach John Camm. “She’s got all the tools to be a great player. She’s great on the ball. She can beat people in a variety of ways offensively. She’s a great defender. She understands the game and is becoming a really good leader as well.”
Tied for fourth on the team this season with five goals and second in assists with nine, Small’s stats won’t blow you away. She doesn’t overpower the opposition with size, doesn’t dazzle with flash or flare.
Instead, Small’s game is compact, elegant. She wins the ball and will not be muscled off it; it leaves her feet on her terms. She moves swiftly and fluidly. She sees the full field and finds the right pass. She makes Broadneck go. Her imprint is everywhere on the pitch.
Ask the opposition: Small will raze your game plan to the ground.
“Basically, don’t let her get her head up, because if she can get her head up and see the field, she’ll destroy you,” said South River coach John Sis. The Bruins defeated South River 1-0 on a goal by Small early in the season, then outlasted the Seahawks on penalty kicks in the 4A East region semifinals. “We actually put more numbers in the midfield, told one of our forwards to drop, to try to prevent her. In the playoff game we defended well, and she still destroyed us and gave them chances because of her ability to find the open player.”
Small’s ability to find the open player helped the likes of freshmen MaKenna Dean (team-leading 12 goals and 10 assists) and Talia Gabarra (eight, three) to prolific seasons offensively. Combined with Small’s midfield connection with fellow junior standout Maddie Bragaw (eight goals, three assists), the Bruins scored 50 goals in 18 games.
“She always motivated us. She always told me where to go and what to do, and she obviously sent great balls to me,” said Dean. “She did everything amazingly on the field. Her speed and her work ethic make her such a good player. She always works so hard, and her foot skills are amazing too.”
Her exceptional foot skills and passing ability are a testament to her commitment and work ethic as a player, and they’re also what allowed her come up with brilliant plays at key times.
A classic moment came in Broadneck’s 2-0 victory over Arundel in the East region final. With Broadneck leading 1-0 late in the first half on a score by Gabarra, Small corralled a ball outside the box, her back to the goal. Hemmed in by multiple defenders, she rapidly changed direction with the ball about five times in the space of about six feet, paralyzing Wildcat eyes like some soccer version of a three-card monte.
Their frozen gaze was broken by a strike. The ball was in the back of the net before anyone knew what happened, and the Bruins were on their way to a 2-0 win and a berth in the state tournament for the first time since 1998.
“Four or five times a season she just comes up with a great goal,” said Camm. “The goal against Arundel, she beats two or three defenders with an unorthodox move, then rips a left-footed shot, and it was just a great goal. She does that stuff all the time.”
Broadneck went on to defeat Churchill in the semifinals and Leonardtown in overtime in the final to win the program’s first state championship, and Small said her team’s depth and talent made winning possible.
“Knowing that we had such strength at every position, it was such a good confidence booster, and it just gave me the idea that we could go to states like we did and just be strong this year overall,” Small said.
There’s also the x-factor weapon she wields better than anyone else: her throw. Small can consistently throw the ball 35 yards, takes most of Broadneck’s throws and is able to get the ball inside 10 yards of the goal with ease.
There simply isn’t another player in the area who can throw that far.
“She came in [as a freshman] with that, and that just adds another dimension,” said Camm. “It’s difficult to defend because you can’t be offsides. We can just stick kids down in the box, and it helps that our kids are so aggressive. They’ll get on the balls and create havoc down there. It’s a dimension that no other team in the region has.”
For all her exploits on the field, Small, who committed last Sunday to play soccer at Navy, is equally strong as a leader, helping this season to bring together a varied roster with girls from all four classes. Resentment could have easily brewed for Broadneck on a team with multiple standout freshmen, but Camm said the seniors did a great job of welcoming in the freshman.
Senior captain Amanda Schweitzer said Small was an integral part of the upperclassman leadership contingent.
“She just helped encourage everyone and make it more of a family,” said Schweitzer. “Everyone’s positive and pushing each other to get better, so it’s like making everyone stronger and more of a family, and she is just so great at pulling everyone together and making everyone better.”
Small is most proud of how the team came together to achieve its goals.
“It’s been different this year—in past years we’ve had seniority—but this year we’ve made everyone equal,” said Small. “I’m really proud of the way that all the girls on our team have built up and how they’ve improved. It’s the way we made the team this year at Broadneck, that we’ve been able to go this far for the first time in Broadneck history, that made me really proud…Being on the team just in general has definitely been the best part about high school, and just overall in my soccer career, it’s a really good experience with all the girls that you meet and just the coaching staff that you have. It’s just been awesome.”