Field hockey was not Kat Varga's first choice of sport.
"I actually started playing field hockey as a substitute for soccer," this year's Columbia Flier/Howard County Times field hockey Player of the Year said.
With her soccer team evolving into a year-round travel program, the multitalented Varga was not prepared to give up basketball and softball. Her mother suggested field hockey for the fall.
She began playing for Howard County Stampede as she entered the sixth grade.
"When I first picked up a stick at tryouts I knocked down every single cone I was supposed to weave through," the River Hill senior said.
Varga is now renowned for her excellent stick skills.
As a three-year varsity player, she has improved with each season and garnered accolades along the way. In 2010, with Varga starting at forward as only a sophomore, River Hill won the 3A state championship. Each of the past two years she has been selected to the National Futures Elite Championship. Last year she was named second team All-Met by the Washington Post.
Varga has been a forward for the majority of her seven-year career.
"The best part about being a forward is the challenge to beat the defender, and, of course, scoring goals," she said.
With 28 goals and 12 assists, she helped lead her team to 12 wins against only four losses this season.
Varga not only contributed to the Hawks as a prolific scorer this season, but she was also a leader and a captain.
Coach Shelly Chamness said that Varga's work ethic influenced everyone on the team.
"Her skill level is so high," she said. "Playing with someone who plays at an elite level helps to teach her teammates skills that most high school players don't have. She helped everyone around her to get better."
Varga's skill did not come overnight, and she attributes the National Futures program and her current club team, the Severna Park SPark, for helping her to refine fundamental skills and develop the mental side of the game.
She also took a 21st-century approach to her improvement as a player.
"When I wanted to learn something new I looked up videos on YouTube and got friends to go up to the fields and practice," said Varga, who is also an excellent student and will continue her field hockey career at Cornell University next year.
The drive to improve was especially noticeable to her coach. Chamness said that Varga inspired others because she was so humble and always wanted to learn more.
"She leads by example, by working hard. She's proof that you can always learn new things no matter how good you are," Chamness said.
Named to the all-county first team:
Stephanie Asher, Glenelg junior. Tallying 25 goals and 11 assists this year, Asher could be counted on to put the ball on cage. She scored in 13 of Glenelg's 18 games this season.
"Every year she is coming out with at least 20 goals. She is a great finisher, a really good dodger. She just has great stick skills," coach Ginger Kincaid said.
Asher earned second-team honors as a freshman and sophomore. As a starting forward, she has helped the Gladiators earn three state championships in a row.
For her career, she has 65 goals and 16 assists.
"I've never seen her be such a complete player until this year," former assistant coach Lindsay Beil said. "You always knew she could finish, but she was carrying the ball and transitioning well, too."
Danielle Baker, Glenelg senior. Glenelg has taken advantage of Baker's speed and ability to score on the post for all four years she has started on varsity as right wing.
One of her most important roles this season came on corners.
"Many of her (15) assists came as the inserter on corners. The combination between her and (striker) Morgan Philie was incredible," Kincaid said.
Baker finished the season with 17 goals and 15 assists. She has committed to play lacrosse next year at Winthrop University.
Rachel Day, Atholton junior. This is Day's second year at Atholton but first as a forward. When coach Martie Dyer arrived this year, Day was a defender.
"I said, 'That's not happening,'" Dyer said. "She is an extremely gifted, natural field hockey player and a natural scorer."
Dyer moved Day to the front line to great success. She finished with 21 goals and five assists. Her final tally of the season was the game-winner in the state championship against Hereford.
"Her drive to score is contagious," said Dyer, who added that Day was the catalyst to the Atholton offense.
Megan Taylor, Glenelg sophomore. Although Taylor played varsity as a freshman, this is her first year as a starter. With 21 goals (second on the team) and 20 assists (first), she clearly justified her spot.
"I designed a system to take advantage of her exceptional speed and stick work," said Kincaid. "She was our through striker and we found her all over the field."
Taylor scored once and assisted on two goals in the state championship game against Poolesville. After that game, Taylor said her motivation was not to garner awards for herself.
"This year, it's more of wanting to do this for our school, our coach," she said.
Tianna Wallpher, Mt. Hebron junior. Wallpher, an inside forward, played an integral role in getting the ball into scoring position, scoring 17 goals and assisting on 10 more.
"She has the ability to pass or carry into the opposing defensive end," coach Jeannette Ireland said.
Many times, Wallpher would work with teammate Samantha Brookhart on a give-and-go up the right sideline.
Since becoming a starter as a sophomore, she has been the Vikings' leading scorer each of the past two seasons. This season, she also tied for the team lead in assists.
A quick and dynamic player, Wallpher has been a dream to coach, according to Ireland.
"You only get the opportunity to coach someone like her every once in a while," she said. "All she cares about is doing whatever it takes for the team to win; she doesn't care about personal stats."
Courtney Barnwell, Howard senior. Thanks in part to Barnwell, Howard's midfield this year was its strength. The three-year varsity player has been playing field hockey locally for eight years. She has committed to join her sister on the Division I Towson team next season.
With nine goals and six assists, Barnwell was named the Lions' offensive Player of the Year. As a captain, she was also a leader on and off the field.
"She had the ability to dodge nearly everyone she encountered" with her impressive stick skills, coach Kristen Vance said.
Kelly McQuilkin, Atholton senior. The left midfielder has held an important role in Atholton's transitions.
"She does the most beautiful job at passing that I've seen anyone do," coach Martie Dyer said, adding that the co-captain was influential in the spiritual development of the team as well.
"She is the most dedicated player I have coached in over 30 years," Dyer said.
McQuilkin accumulated 10 goals, seven assists and one defensive save.
Morgan Philie, Glenelg junior. Philie's impressive ability to lift the ball was a key skill that the Gladiators used to advance down the field. She was involved in nearly every aspect of the Gladiator game, serving as Glenelg's first stroker, striker on offensive corners, part of the defensive corner unit and a member of the overtime squad.
A first-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro selection, she is also a Junior Olympian.
As a defensive midfielder, her main role was to transfer the ball from right to left.
"She was the transition player," coach Ginger Kincaid said. "We designed a special midfield system around her."
A co-captain and three-year starter, Philie helped lead her team to its third consecutive state title.
"She is my best field hockey player," Kincaid said. "She is one of the best skilled players we have had."
Emily Russo, Glenelg senior. The dynamic athlete and three-time first teamer could be seen all over the field throughout Glenelg's quest for its third state title.
"She would often come out of nowhere to back up the ball," coach Ginger Kincaid said. "We didn't know how she did it, but she did."
The midfielder recorded six goals and 11 assists and held several special assignments, such as the flyer on defensive corners and right hitter on offensive corners. She also represented Glenelg at the Senior All-Star game.
A strong vocal leader on the field, Russo said she'll always remember bonding with the team off the field.
"We're close on the field, but off the field is where we got all our chemistry," said Russo, who has committed to play basketball for UMBC next year. "You can tell how we play that we have good general team chemistry."
Sheila O'Malley, Atholton senior. After leading the Raiders to their first state field hockey championship this fall, O'Malley was selected by her teammates as Atholton's MVP.
"This is my favorite team. We had the best chemistry on and off the field," she said after making a huge defensive save with less than five minutes left in the Raiders' 2-1 championship win.
The co-captain was a defender that didn't mind pushing up into midfield territory when the situation presented itself. According to Dyer, she was very good at stealing the ball on the defensive end and delivering passes up the field.
Last year, O'Malley subbed in on the forward line.
"I moved her to defense and she never had a bad game," Dyer said. "She was a standout in every single game."
Rylie Whiting, Marriotts Ridge senior. According to coach Stacie Gado, Whiting came into her senior year with determination to succeed.
"She was serious about the game, played a lot in the off-season, and took on the challenge of stepping up on the field to be a threat to other teams," Gado said.
A versatile player, Whiting played where her team needed her on defense, sometimes left back, sometimes sweeper, depending on the contest.
"Rylie was confident in herself, moving to the ball, being patient with the rival offense, and taking the ball away when the offense showed a weakness," Gado said.
Whiting led a defense that recorded eight shutouts, and plans on continuing her field hockey career at Lynchburg College.
Sarah Bates, Glenelg Country senior. As a senior, Bates had to do something that she had never done before: share playing time. But she didn't mind.
"Getting to work with Kelly [Johnson] has been really nice because I have someone to push me," she said. "We both have the same mentality that you have to earn your position. We encourage each other but we also compete with each other."
A four-year starter, Bates also participates in both the Futures Elite program and the Junior Olympics. She has been named an IAAM B Conference All–Star each of the last four years.
This year she made 113 saves against only nine goals allowed for a .926 save percentage.
"She is the best goalkeeper that I've ever seen in my tenure as a coach or player," coach Jessica McAdams said.
Amanda Hoyt, Glenelg, junior. As a freshman in 2010, Hoyt was thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly when an injury forced her to fill in for seven games. Her steady performance until the starter returned prior to the playoffs showed what she was capable of.
The two-year starter showed poise and maturity in a position that is often self-directed.
"When the keeper coach is not working directly with them, Amanda is in charge," Kincaid said. Hoyt plays year-round and has learned to be very vocal in the cage. She led her defense to eight shutouts, did not allow a goal in 12 of the 18 games she played and finished with a save percentage of 85.7 (48/56).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun