Howard girls soccer race heating up with playoffs looming

Just when it seemed as though the Howard County girls soccer picture was coming into focus, a recent competitive surge has made for a much more uncertain forecast heading into the last two weeks of the regular season.

And, according to some coaches, this kind of balance is exactly what they expected heading into the year.

"Everyone is moving up and being competitive," said Howard coach Nick Zaron. "It's actually not a huge surprise."

Zaron added that "upsets will always happen," and with each one comes another budding team looking to get to the next level of competition.

The aggressive nature of the county can be seen in the trading of wins and losses that each school has been involved in over the last few weeks.

River Hill, normally a model of stability from year to year, is the latest example of the county closing in on the top-tier teams.

Heading into this week, the Hawks sat at 6-0-1 against league opponents.

Though still leading the pack, River Hill is a different team compared to last year's perfect 3A state championship squad.

On Oct. 4, the Hawks welcomed Centennial, and the two teams played to a scoreless draw.

It was the first time since 2011 that the Hawks weren't victorious in a county match.

The Eagles, who entered the week at 5-1-1, even with Marriotts Ridge in the county, suffered their only loss on Sept. 24 against Wilde Lake.

The Wildecats (4-2-1) have tied with the Mustangs, while losing games to Howard and Atholton.

"It's definitely expected, and that's why (Howard County) soccer is so awesome," said Wilde Lake coach Davia Procida of the topsy-turvy season. "Anyone can beat anyone on any given day."

Mt. Hebron should not be forgotten either.

The Vikings, led by juniors Jen Giles and Nia Crump, only had two losses heading into a match-up with the Wildecats Oct. 8.

Procida said every team poses a significant threat and her girls are learning to never be complacent from game to game.

"When we coach these girls, we use this as a teaching moment," she said. "We tell them that they have to work for everything they can get.

"We have learned, unfortunately the hard way, that we have to stay on our toes."

Wildecats' senior Carliane LaGuerre said that River Hill's slight drop-off from last year could be what is feuling teams across the county to step up.

"Usually, they win every single game," she said. "The tie changes the whole aspect of girls soccer here. If they can tie, why can't we beat them?"

Having a well-followed team such as the Hawks in their own backyard seems to be one of the keys to success for multiple programs across the county.

"Everybody wants to beat River Hill," Procida said. "Do I think we can? Yes I do. If we play our best soccer, we can beat anyone."

Procida added that, though this year's standings are exceptionally tight from top to bottom, it's not much of a change overall.

The truth of it is, as she points out, Howard County is a dominating region for girls soccer.

"Soccer is such a big sport here," she said.

"There's always a program for everyone. It's just always been huge."

Both Zaron and Procida said that a large number of their girls play on year-round club teams with other players in the county. Getting a chance to beat their club teammates is another reason for that extra competitive drive.

While everyone is still chasing the Hawks, for the first time in nearly two years, the rest of the county is motivated by the opportunity to finally catch them.

"(The tie) gives teams hope," Procida said. "It's definitely exciting."

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