It’s a new year, but Howard County girls soccer coaches are still puzzled by the same problem that has befuddled the league for nearly half a decade.
Can anyone stop River Hill?
The Hawks have won the last two 3A state championships, and much of coach Brian Song’s tenure has been spent at the top of the county standings.
While the other 11 public school clubs will be looking for any edge they can find, five teams will have to get to know the new boss first.
This season, the amount of coaching turnover in the county’s girls soccer arena has been nearly unprecedented. The result, according to those staying behind, could mean a complete shakeup by the end of the year.
“It will be interesting to see how much of an impact, if any, this has on the county standings,” said Marriotts Ridge coach Robin Grey, who enters her 10th year at the helm of the Mustangs club. “A new coach can often breathe new life into a program. Our county has always been extremely competitive. Bring in some new blood and you never know what will happen.”
This year, Glenelg’s Julie Bortz, Hammond’s Chris Reagle, Howard’s Bali Boule, Oakland Mills’ Sam Haddad and Reservoir’s Phil Ranker aim to make their marks on programs that have all found varying degrees of success in the past — most recently with the Gators, who nearly bested River Hill in last year’s double-overtime 3A East Section I final.
So, what exactly should this new crop of coaches expect this season?
While the Hawks lost current Syracuse Orange women’s soccer player Sheridan Street to graduation, Song returns plenty of talent to make up the difference.
Senior Alex Hamer, known for being an assist-machine throughout her first three years of high school, should be the team’s top offensive weapon. Her eight goals and 10 assists ranked her second in points for River Hill in 2013. Jess Hopkins, a junior this season, scored seven times and notched 11 assists of her own last year. Both players should make an immediate impact in the absence of, arguably, the county’s best player over the last four years.
Behind the offensive attack, the Hawks return midfielder Jen Voyton and goalie Julia Caine for their senior seasons. Both are capable of first-team all-county honors.
River Hill dropped its first county game in nearly two years in 2013, when Atholton’s Jaylyn Chandler netted an overtime goal in the rain in early October. Because of that loss, the county championship came down to the final game of the season, as Centennial and Wilde Lake were in the mix for a share of the league title.
This year, those teams, plus a few others, figure to be contenders to challenge Song’s girls’ hold on the county.
“With the young talent that is returning at Atholton and the continued development of Jaylyn Chandler, they are my favorite to win the county,” said Centennial coach Steve Baxter. “Jaylyn is a special player and if healthy, she will be a candidate for Player of the Year.”
In Baxter’s four seasons at the helm of the Eagles program, his teams have played the Raiders to extra time on five occasions.
Baxter didn’t go without mentioning his own club, which also boasts a Player of the Year candidate in Anna Mitchell. As a junior, Mitchell posted 40 points to lead the county public schools last season.
The Eagles also bring back possible breakout players Megan Oliver (12 goals in 2013), Reese Western (eight goals, five assists) and Jasmine McCree.
Wilde Lake returns much of last season’s squad as well, including Ali Mallo, Alyssa Bialek, Rachel Lazris and Brynn Drury.
“This county, I believe, has the best competition in the state,” said Wilde Lake coach Davia Procida. “There are no ‘gimme’ games.”
Howard also tops many coaches’ lists as a possible dark-horse pick for the county crown. New coach Bali Boule’s roster features seniors Sydney Mastalerz, Kara Brudzinski, Hannah Weaver, Maddie Wade and Catherine Sims — all of whom she says should provide the leadership for the team. The coach also figures midfielder Fern Peters, forward Nia Elbeck, goalkeeper Marisa Grant and forward Grace Regal will be crucial to the team’s success.
“I have high expectations of them, and believe we could do some damage this year,” the first-year coach said, “but the challenge will be to get my team to believe in themselves.”
Marriotts Ridge brings back Samantha Price, Mary Koutrelakos and Leah Zadjura; while Reservoir has Kayla Pindell, Anna Janush and Abby Gillum — all capable of posting banner seasons.
The Mustanges were state semifinalists in the 2A classification last fall, when the team fell a goal short against Loch Raven.
Since 2000, Howard County has produced nine state championships from three different schools, covering the 2A and 3A classifications.
With the pedigree clearly there, it could be up to some of these new coaches to maintain that tradition.
“It is cliché, but I think any team can win on any night,” said Reservoir’s Ranker. “And that is especially true in Howard County.”
Here’s a thumbnail look at the teams across the county heading into the season (For expanded capsules, visit us at howardcountytimes.com):
Coach: Stephanie Stoutenborough
2013 record: 7-3-1 county, 7-5-1 overall
Top players: Senior Sage Mayhew (GK); juniors Emma Johnson (MF) and Jaylyn Chandler (MF/F); sophomores Sofia Harrison (D) and Ashley Ensor (D).
What you need to know: Jaylyn Chandler returns after an impressive 2013 campaign for the Raiders, who many in the county think could steal a league title from the Hawks.
Still, experience will factor into the equation, and Stoutenborough says she’ll count on senior Sage Mayhew to provide the support on and off the field.
“It is important in this county to have a solid keeper like Sage,” the coach said. “We will rely on her and the returning players to lead our team. But I have no doubt that, with their talent, our new players will quickly adapt to the varsity level.”
Other important players to watch for Atholton include sophomore forward Katie Johnson, who was pulled up to the varsity level last season for the playoff push, and Victoria Huxtable, a freshman defender who is a “very smart, tough defender, but has the ball skills to play anywhere,” according to Stoutenborough.
Coach: Steve Baxter
2013 record: 7-2-2, 12-3-2
Top players: Seniors Anna Mitchell (MF/F) and Martha Hutzell (D); juniors Allie Durkee (GK/F), Reese Western (F) and Megan Oliver (F); sophomore Jasmine McCree (F).
What you need to know: For much of 2013, Centennial posed the biggest threat to thwarting River Hill’s chances at another county title. Two weeks before the Hawks lost to Atholton, they played to a scoreless draw with the Eagles.
Mitchell returns for Centennial as the county’s top public school scorer from last year. Her 11 goals and 18 assists in 2013 instantly make her a preseason favorite to dominate league play. Oliver and McCree also bring a wealth of varsity experience at a young age, which Baxter hopes will only improve their impressive numbers from a season ago.
Aside from offensive production, the coach said there is still much to settle when it comes to the remainder of the starters.
“Overall, four of our top five options are back on the back line this season are either recovering from serious injuries or being held out of full training due to muscle strains,” Baxter said. “So, we have lots of unanswered questions on defense to start the season. Ultimately, we need to stay healthy.”
Coach: Julie Bortz
2013 record: 4-7, 4-11
Top players: Seniors Emily Taylor (MF), Taylor Zucco (D) and Savanna Holt (MF); juniors Elena Symmes (MF), Sydney Peirce (MF) and Paige Johnson (D).
What you need to know: Another team with a first-year head coach, the goal for the Gladiators is team cohesion. The hope is that it will come before playoff time.
“We have a lot of talent this year, but many of the girls play on different club teams,” said Bortz. “So our biggest challenge will be just getting enough time to play together and learn how best to support each other on the field.”
Last season, Glenelg had a season filled with ups and downs, but the potential was there. In 2014, Bortz said the club could be in play for a productive year. But first, the team might need one more piece.
“We should be pretty solid all the way around with depth off the bench,” she said. “We need to find a couple (of) scrappy finishers.”
Watch out for this club. As many coaches in the county have already noted, the potential in Glenelg's program from the JV level should, in theory, make its way to the varisty stage. If that holds true, Glenelg could have something special on the horizon.
Coach: Chris Regale
2013 record: 0-11, 2-12
Top players: Seniors Brigid Managan (GK), Olivia Kuykendall (D) and Amirah Hassan (D); juniors Cristina McGuire (D) and Juno Kawasaki (F).
What you need to know: Forget about last year, which saw another season without a county victory. That's what Reagle and his Golden Bears are doing. Thankfully, they have experience on their side as they march forward in 2014.
With six sophomores equipped with varsity experience on this season’s roster, the first-year coach said their ability to step up in skill and leadership is imperative. That competitive atmosphere they create, he added, “will have a huge impact on our success this year.”
Still, Reagle knows getting the Hammond club back on track won’t happen overnight.
“We have a very young team and program in general,” he said. “With any young team, confidence can be a challenge. The skill is there, the athleticism is there, the soccer IQ is there, but we need to believe it in order to make it all come together.”
Coach: Bali Boule
2013 record: 6-5, 8-6
Top players: Seniors Fern Peters (MF), Nia Elbeck (F), Marisa Grant (GK), Sydney Mastalerz (D), Kara Brudzinski (D/MF), Hannah Weaver (D/MF), Maddie Wade (D) and Catherine Sims (D); junior Grace Regal (F).
What you need to know: Next to Atholton, Howard is held in high esteem by coaches across the county when it comes to dark horse picks for a title. Armed with a new coach, and one of the league’s stronger finishes in 2013, the Lions could be in line to shake up the standings.
“Howard’s biggest challenge this year will be to stay focused and determined all season,” said Boule, who played at Oakland Mills during her high school days. “My team is well rounded. We have quality players in every position. On top of that, our substitutes are strong.”
The Lions have their work cut out for them this year early on, with games against Centennial, River Hill, Atholton and Wilde Lake all in the first three weeks.
Coach: Erik Sanderson
2013 record: 2-9, 3-10
Top players: Seniors Ann Bonner (MF) and Lauren Murphy (D); juniors Rachel Kim (D) and Leah Jordan (D).
What you need to know: Last season, the Lightning faced a multitude of difficulties—starting with key losses to graduation, and ending with injury. Sanderson says “heart” will be what separates this season from the last.
“Leah Jordan was a great marking back as a sophomore, and I expect her to improve on last year’s performance and be a shutdown defender,” he said. “Rachel Kim led our defense the past two seasons and I expect her to be one of the top performers in the county again this year.”
Like last season, Long Reach begins its year county slate Oakland Mills. In 2013, Sanderson’s girls won that matchup, 2-0.
Coach: Robin Grey
2013 record: 7-2-2, 13-3-2
Top players: Senior Mary Koutrelakos (MF); juniors Samantha Price (MF/D), Leah Zadjura (F) and Jenna Boulin (F).
What you need to know: The volatile nature of high school sports makes for an ever-changing roster year after year. That can be said especially for the Mustangs this fall, who lost eight starters total, including first-team all-county goalie Jenna Bergquist.
“We are young. Our success will be directly correlated to how quickly our young players develop, not only as individuals, but as a team,” said Grey, who added that her team may see a rocky start, but it won’t be for long. “It would be a mistake to underestimate us.”
Grey speaks highly of her returning players, like Price, Koutrelakos and Zadjura—all of whom bring starting experience into the fold. As for Boulin, who did not start last year, the coach said she is looking for big things.
“Now with a starting role, I expect her to emerge from the shadows and produce,” she said.
Look for freshman midfielder Mia Lee to also make a strong case for herself this year. Grey calls her the “firecracker,” and that “she is extremely talented with tremendous speed.”
Coach: Tim Deppen
2013 record: 5-5-1, 7-5-1
Top players: Seniors Jen Giles (MF), Nia Crump (D), Kelly Richards (F), Janette Yacynych (MF) and Meghan Doherty (F); junior Lyndsey McLamb (GK); sophomore Morgan Manning (MF).
What you need to know: Calling his team’s extensive varsity playing time a “huge asset,” Deppen, a veteran coach, is relying on the usual suspects this year to lead the club.
“Our biggest strength is probably our four captains’ leadership and experience,” he said. “All four of them have been on varsity since freshman year. Jen and Nia have been four-year varsity starters, and Kelly and Janette have been three-year varsity starters.”
Last season, the Vikings were always in the hunt, but failed to capture that breakthrough victory to set themselves apart. In his 13th year at the helm of the program, Deppen has yet to secure a win against River Hill—a goal they share with many other teams in league play.
One important thing to note is the end of the Giles family era. Deppen has coached Jen Giles for her entire career, as he did her three older sisters Jacqueline, Jess and Julianne.
In 2013, Jen Giles was a first-team all-county selection, as was Crump.
Coach: Sam Haddad
2013 record: 1-10, 2-13
Top players: Senior Courtney Rapp (MF); juniors Kat Stockford (F) and Charlotte Bickhart (MF).
What you need to know: While numbers have been a challenge for Oakland Mills throughout history, according to Haddad, the new coach hopes that 2014 will be a different story. There are plenty of young athletes who will mix in with a plethora of experienced talent from last year’s roster, which always seemed to be on the cusp of turning the corner.
“I am new to the team, but from the few practices we had (so far), I see that our offense should be our strongest area, as well as goalkeeping,” Haddad said. “I will pay special attention to our defense and try to improve that area.”
The coach added that he has aspirations to be named this year’s “most improved team” in Howard County.
Coach: Phillip Ranker
2013 record: 7-4, 11-5
Top players: Seniors Alexis Bartley (MF), Darci Fehr (D), Abby Gillum (GK), Anna Janush (MF), Natalie Raymond (D) and Meghan Smith (D); juniors Julianne Knoblett (MF) and Kayla Pindell (F); sophomore Kylie Toler (MF).
What you need to know: Any time a team loses a player of the year, it’s going to sting. For the Gators, they also lost a state championship-winning coach in Josh Sullivan, who has moved over to the boys team. With a chance to start fresh with a core group of seniors and talented underclassmen, Ranker knows this was the best time to take the reigns of the team.
“Our biggest strength is the attitude and commitment of the players,” the first-year coach said. “They all come ready to go everyday, and they genuinely want to make the team better. It is refreshing to see so many talented soccer players who are unselfish and who are not concerned with personal accolades.”
The new leadership may be something to get used to, but the sooner Reservoir finds its new identity, the better the team will fair in the tough county.
Coach: Brian Song
2013 record: 9-1-1, 14-4-1
Top players: Seniors Alex Hamer (F), Jen Voyton (MF), Julia Caine (GK) and Julianna Ball (D); juniors Jess Hopkins (MF) and Becca Higgins (D).
What you need to know: Obviously losing a player like Sheridan Street—who finished her legendary high school career in December before enrolling early at Syracuse University as a member of the girls soccer team—is going to be a devastating blow to any program. On the plus side, River Hill is a twice-defending state champion that seems to refuse the term “rebuilding.”
Song’s team should be strong on defense and in the net with Caine, who pitched a shutout in last season’s 3A state championship contest against Huntingtown.
Hamer and Hopkins represent the team’s returning first-team all-county selections on offense. Hamer will likely become the No. 1 goal-scoring option on offense.
Coach: Davia Procida
2013 record: 7-3-1, 8-6-1
Top players: Seniors Alyssa Bialek (GK) and Ali Mallo (F); juniors Rachel Lazris (MF) and Brynn Drury (F).
What you need to know: The Wildecats were a 4-0 regular season-ending loss to River Hill away from a share of the county title—something that is sure to keep much of Procida’s returning roster hungry for 2014.
“Our biggest strength comes not in a specific position, but in each player,” the coach said. “They come ready to work every day, they are eager to learn and have great attitudes. Each member of our team is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful this year.”
One of the most intriguing matchups over the last few years has been Wilde Lake and Marriotts Ridge. Aside from the fact that Procida once played for Mustangs coach Robin Grey these two teams have tied in both meetings over the last two seasons.
Coach: Christen Gjeldum
2013 record: 1-9-1 IAAM B Conference, 3-10-1
Top players: Seniors Marissa Terry (S) and Emma Ruffolo (MF); juniors Katherine Cameron (GK), Lindsay Basalyga (D) and Rachel Terry (MF); freshman Jasa Curry (S).
What you need to know:
After a year of B Conference play, Chapelgate moves down a level, where it will get a chance to face Howard County rival Glenelg Country.
The Yellowjackets will be without last year’s county-leading scorer, Lydia Frierson, who graduated.
Nonetheless, a few multi-sport athletes will aim to fill out Gjeldum’s roster in impressive fashion. Add in freshman striker Jasa Curry, who is probably only scratching the surface in terms of her potential, and Chapelgate may be one of the biggest mysteries this year.
Glenelg Country School
Coach: Christy Cole
2013 record: 11-1-1 IAAM C, 14-2-1
Top players: Seniors Chloe Lewis (D), Deja Hursey (F) and Catelyn Gamble (MF); sophomore Kiersten Moore (F).
What you need to know: The Dragons return much of last year’s squad, which was defeated by Mt. Carmel in the IAAM C championship game.
The key is staying the course.
“(Our biggest challenge is) to keep our efforts and attitudes consistent and strong as we play teams of varying levels,” coach Christy Cole said, referring to the C conference.
Deja Hursey and Catelyn Gamble return 61 points for Glenelg Country, proving that offensive production shouldn’t be much of an issue, especially in the playoffs.