Friends since they started playing lacrosse together at age five, 2013 Catonsville graduates Deb Milani and Maddie Hunt will be forever linked as a pair of athletes whose talent in three sports was matched by their extremely competitive desire to win.
The pair, who made winning lots of games for four years more than a habit, will now be entwined together as the Catonsville Times Co-Athletes of the Year.
Both of them will continue playing lacrosse in college at programs that are at opposite ends of the country.
Milani will join a University of Maryland women’s team that has a history of success and came within an overtime loss to North Carolina this past spring of winning its 11th national championship.
Hunt will be part of history as a freshman for the first-year girls lacrosse program at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
They are both eagerly looking forward to playing at the next level.
“I’m just excited, and to be pushed to be the best that I can be and be playing with the best players in the country is great,” said Milani, who carried a 4.6 weighted grape point average into her final senior season.
Hunt, who had a 4.33 weight GPA and scored 1790 on her SATs, always wanted to travel for college.
“I love Catonsville and I think I’ll come back here, but I’ve always wanted to go out and meet new people and start somewhere different,” she said.
They left their mark behind on an elite lacrosse Comet program that went 33-5 and reached the state semifinals the past two seasons.
Milani, who was named Times Co-Athlete of the Year along with Rachel Schwaab in 2012, led the 16-3 Comets in points this past season (94 goals, 29 assists), draw controls (129) and ground balls (46).
Last year, the junior midfielder was one of 12 athletes, and the only one from Baltimore County, named to the Greater Baltimore area US Lacrosse All-American First Team.
This spring, she was one of 44 seniors selected for the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse team and was the only public school player from Baltimore County selected for the 22-player roster.
“She stepped up as a leader this year and she made the people around her better,” said Catonsville coach Becky Clipp, who was a Second Team All-American at the University of Maryland and a Catonsville High graduate.
“She has the total package and she can do anything. She can change the game by herself,” said Clipp, the Catonsville Times Athlete of the Year in 2003.
According to Milani, Clipp was ‘probably’ the toughest coach on her ‘because she knows me so well and what I’m capable of and she knows when I’m not living up to my potential.”
It was extremely rare for Milani, who scored 93 goals and had 121 draw controls for the 17-2 Comets as a junior, not to live up to her potential.
It was her shot, while being triple-teamed, that nearly won the Comets their second straight Baltimore County championship against Hereford, but it caromed off the top of the post and the Bulls scored at the other end for a 13-12 win.
“That was the worst thing ever, and then it went so far off and they got the rebound and went down and scored,” she said.
Hunt was the top defender for that squad that won its second consecutive regional crown in the spring.
“Maddie was unbelievable this year,” Clipp said. “As the games got harder, she got better and got more and more confident.”
Of the Comets’ 16 victories, only four times did the opponent lose by less than five goals.
One of them was a 10-7 victory over Dulaney in the regional championship game.
That was the last home game for the seniors and a memorable one for Hunt.
“We started out pretty rocky and they had a good lead, but we all came together and stepped up and ended up winning,” she said.
But the winning stopped in a 15-5 loss in the Class 3A-4A state semifinals to eventual state champion Broadneck.
Hunt, who played outstanding defense that game, felt the sting over a month later.
“It’s still pretty rough,” she said. “Just losing both times (in state semis) kind of hurts because we knew how good we were.”
And Clipp knew how valuable she was to the defense.
“She was by far one of the best defenders on the field,” Clipp said. “She would do anything you ask and she was a great competitor.”
Basketball coach Mike Mohler saw that in Hunt when he put her on varsity as a freshman.
She earned a starting spot two months later and stayed in the lineup for four years.
Mohler, who had coached Hunt’s father, Rich, as an eighth-grader in the St. Mark’s program, saw similarities in the two players.
“They were very similar players, very fundamentally sound and very strong defenders,” Mohler said. “It was her fundamentals and defense that helped her make varsity freshman year.”
As the years developed, she became a three-point shooting threat, but it was defense that prompted Mohler to name her Catonsville’s nominee at the 2013 McCormick Unsung Hero Awards ceremony.
Ironically, he had given a similar award to her dad with the St. Mark School team.
Despite being listed at 5-feet, 7 inches, Hunt often had a difficult defensive assignment.
“Many nights, she was playing the other team’s best player,” Mohler said.
Milani, who was two inches taller, also got that assignment, when she wasn’t in foul trouble.
“I had a lot of trouble with that this year,” she confessed.
But, during her sophomore year, when the Comets stunned Western, 59-57 in overtime in the first round of the regional playoffs, she was at her best defensively.
Milani guarded All-Metro standout Tenecia Spence like a glove.
“We played a box and one and I put Deb on her for over a quarter and she frustrated her and I don’t think she scored,” said Mohler, who noted that was Milani’s first varsity season, after playing junior varsity as a freshman.
Catonsville had lost to Western in the playoffs three straight seasons and four of the past five times.
“It just makes me feel like I have this job and I’ve got to do it and I can’t let anybody down and take one for the team,” said Milani, on guarding top players.
Milani had 11 points and six assists and Hunt had 12 points and three treys in the historic triumph that the pair recalled as one of their all-time greatest together on the basketball court.
“That Western game was the best because everybody was so pumped and seeing coach Mike so happy, because he had never beaten them — I didn’t know it was that big a deal until they said that.”
Although the Comets lost in the regional semifinals this past season, Mohler saw the duo’s competitiveness until the end.
“Both of a them are good athletes and no one likes to lose, but losing was extremely distasteful to those two,” Mohler said. “They never took losses easily. They were just great competitors.”
MIlani played every position during her hoop career.
She always led the team in steals and was among the leaders in points, assists, rebounds and a another obscure category.
“Deb led the league in me pulling my hair out,” Mohler said. “I would turn my head and go ‘Wow” and then she would go diving into a wall. She went full tilt all the time. She didn’t know the meaning of slow down.”
Hunt played with similar passion and contributed from the perimeter and in a leadership role.
“Maddie definitely stepped up as a zone buster and her fundamental skills were such a great example for the rest of the team,” Mohler said.
That carried over from field hockey team in the fall, where she was a two-time captain for the 2013 state finalists that went 13-4.
“She was a captain because of her leadership skills on and off the field,” field hockey coach Lindsey Gullborg said.
The four-year varsity player started on defense as a freshman and as a senior as the central midfielder.
In the regional semifinals, she scored a goal in a 2-1 win over Perry Hall.
“I usually was just getting the ball down to Brooke (Stevens) and Grace (Campbell), so I was pretty excited to score that goal,” Hunt said.
Following another 2-1 triumph over Dulaney in the finals, Hunt’s drive into the circle set up teammate Brooke Stevens for the first goal in a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Walter Johnson in the state semis.
“She started peaking in her junior year, but definitely peaked by her senior year,” Gullborg said.
Hunthad positive vibes early in the season.
“It was very exciting, but I kind of had the feeling we would do well once we started the season,” she said “We were playing really well and I think the fact that most of us had been playing together for at least two years was definitely a big help. If we were going to do it, it would have been that year.”
Milani also had a strong fall soccer season playing for the 14-2 Comets.
It didn’t go unnoticed by coach James Fitzpatrick.
“You could see more of a dedication to getting better and performing at the top level,” said Fitzpatrick, noting she scored 14 goals and had eight assists.
She worked extremely well on offense with leading scorer Jenn Nonn.
“She was one of those rare athletes that got better every year.” Fitzpatrick said. “She was able to play at the highest level, but she never saw herself as being above the level she really is.”
The soccer coach wasn’t afraid to give out some advice after watching her play in a lacrosse game in the spring.
“It wasn’t one of her best performances and I told her, ‘She needed to play like she is the best player on the field, because she was.’” he recalled “When she made that decision, particularly on the lacrosse field, she would become an unstoppable force.”
And most of the time, no matter what sport they played, Hunt and Milani were forces that many opponents couldn’t stop.