Marriotts Ridge's soccer program has been here before.
Hit hard by graduation, surrounded by question marks on the defensive end of the field and faced with the pressure of being the defending state champs, this year's squad needs to look back only three seasons to find a point of reference.
That 2010 Mustangs' team, which, like this season's group, found itself bringing back only two full-time starters, found a way to reload instead of rebuild. The offense clicked, players slipped seamlessly into new roles and the team dominated on its way to the second of what has now blossomed into a state-record tying four straight state titles.
Now Marriotts Ridge coach Kevin Flynn is trying to dip into the well one more time.
"We haven't talked about it yet, but we will talk about it because there are a lot of similarities (between the teams)," Flynn said following the first day of practice this fall. "We want to make sure everyone knows that it still can be done. We still have a lot of talent. We've got a lot of good young guys and we want to keep everybody confident."
With a completely new back line on defense, there will be some extra pressure on the team's offense to put goals on the board. The good news is that, with the return of Amir Najib (11 goals, 4 assists) and Jeff Kammerer (8 and 3), that shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Having other guys with championship experience under their belts, like Khalil Anderson, Andre Chen and Kwame Owusu-Boaitey, should also help bring the younger players along during the first month of the regular season.
"I'm prepared for the fact that there may be some games where we take our lumps … the learning curve will definitely be a little different this season," Flynn said.
As far as the rest of the county is concerned, though, the Mustangs are still on top until someone knocks them off.
"As with any team coming off a 17-0 season like they had, they're up there until someone comes up and gets them," River Hill coach Matt Shagogue said. "They've set that bar that everyone is shooting for."
Shagogue's Hawks' squad has all the pieces in place to make a run at this year's crown. Seven starters are back from a team that went 10-4-3 a season ago, including two of the county's best offensive players in Jake Turney (8 goals, 5 assists) and Zach Riso (11 and 8). Derek Farley joins those two to round out River Hill's captains this fall.
Reservoir brings back plenty of talent as well from its team that won last year's 3A state title. Emilio Rodas and Michael Peprah form one of the area's most dangerous duos on set pieces.
There's plenty of elite talent elsewhere as well, with five other teams returning at least one all-county player. Atholton (Jack Jacobs) and Wilde Lake (Zach Smythe) are among the squads bringing back a first-team guy.
Don't sleep on Oakland Mills, led by talented senior striker Hans Kouame (7 goals, 5 assists in 2012), or Glenelg, which brings back all-county defender Bryce Helensky and standout goalie Zack Haussler from a team that made huge strides last year.
Mt. Hebron's another team that consistently finds a way to put itself among the county's top tier and, despite graduating last year's leading scorer Emmanuel Wright (36 points), has the talent to be in the mix once again.
"Don't be surprised if you see a lot of ties this year … there's a large group of teams that aren't separated by that much," Oakland Mills coach Don Shea said.
The playoffs this season will have an added twist with each region being divided up into two sections.
Howard, which will be participating in the Class 4A North region for the first time, is sectioned off with four Montgomery County schools.
The eight county schools in 3A East are split up, with Centennial, Long Reach and Mt. Hebron joining a trio of Baltimore City schools in Section I. Atholton, Glenelg, Reservoir, River Hill and Wilde Lake are in Section II.
The other three county schools — Hammond, Marriotts Ridge and Oakland Mills — are in Section I of the Class 2A South region. That means an all-Howard County region final is no longer possible.
Glenelg Country has itself a new coach, with Hal Kenny taking over the program. The Dragons are also making the move back down into the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference after going winless a season ago.
Here's a look around the county as the regular season gets set to begin on Sept. 6.
*2012 First-team all-county; # 2012 Second-team all-county
Coach: Roch DeFrances
2012 record: 3-8 county, 5-9 overall
Top players: Seniors Christian Brosnan (MF), Jack Jacobs* (D) and Robert Thompson (D).
What you need to know: The Raiders have six starters back, including a wealth of talent returning in the midfield. Austin Durham, Nathan Kim and Tariq Pitt-Bey join co-captain Brosnan to help make up a unit in the middle that should serve as the team’s backbone. With returning first-team all-county performer Jacobs, along with Thompson, anchoring the defense, the backline could be an area of strength as well.
Coach DeFrances says that while this group is still relatively young, the talent is there. It’s just a matter of how long it takes for everything to come together. Atholton’s first three county games this fall are against teams that put together winning campaigns a season ago.
Coach: Jim Zehe
2012 record: 9-1-1, 12-2-1
Top players: Seniors Max Dwyer (MF), Heston Priestley# (MF) and Will Vea (D); junior Tommy Wang (MF); sophomore Savya Konkalmatt (MF).
What you need to know: The Eagles are coming off one of the best seasons in program history, finishing alone in second place in the county standings. There were 14 seniors that graduated from that squad and another starter, all-county player Danny Mooney, is playing academy ball this year. That leaves just three returning starters.
Those three, however, are a solid core to build around. Priestley, a second-team selection after registering 17 points as a junior, and Dwyer are back in the midfield, while Vea will be the leader on defense. Vea has started at left back since his sophomore year.
There’s also plenty of help on the way from last year’s JV squad that led the county in wins in 2012. There’s a large junior class expected to play significant minutes and a group of four sophomores on the varsity roster as well.
Coach: Andy Shearer
2012 record: 5-5-1, 6-6-1
Top players: Seniors Braeden Beliczky (MF), Tommy Chaisson (D), Sam Harris (F), Zack Haussler (GK), Bryce Helensky# (D) and Adrian Mobeka (MF); juniors Praveen Morgan (MF/F), Zack Rodriguez (F) and Nick Stamatakis (F); freshman Brady Barajas (MF).
What you need to know: For the third straight season, the Gladiators improved their win total in county play in 2012. With eight players back that played major minutes from that squad, the potential is certainly there to continue that trend.
The senior contingent of Chaisson, Harris, Haussler and Helensky will serve as captains. All four bring “experience, commitment and dedication to the program,” according to Coach Shearer. Haussler is especially important as a returner in goal, having a level of experience and skill that will make him one of the team’s biggest strengths.
The junior class should make major contributions as well, with Stamatakis, Rodriguez and Morgan headlining that group. Shearer says that the emphasis in the preseason is on family after he and his wife just welcomed a newborn to the fold during tryouts.
Coach: Brett Cutler
2012 record: 1-9-1, 4-10-1
Top players: Seniors Nathan Borowski (D), Jake Fenicle (MF), Alex Gladstone (F), Scott Lastova (GK) and Alex Pecas (D); junior Orlando Canales (F); sophomore Darren Ketchum (D/MF).
What you need to know: There may only be four starters back, but there are 12-13 total guys that played significant minutes in end-game situations for the Golden Bears. Seven of the team’s nine juniors, for example, were on varsity last year.
All four of the tean’s captains — Borowski, Fenicle, Lastova and Pecas — are seniors and three-year varsity players. Coach Cutler says they helped organize and run the team’s off-season program. “(They bring) great experience, excellent fitness and skill … (they are) very active leaders on the field,” he said.
The team will be building from the back and three of the team’s starters on defense were playing at different positions a year ago. Ketchum will be among the keys on that unit. There’s potential up top to be strong as well, with Canales and Gladstone bringing great energy to the offense.
Coach: Nils Schroder
2012 record: 2-9, 6-10
Top players: Seniors Andrew Accardi, Jon Binkley, Scott Bruner, Ryan Dean, Kyle Lowenkron, Josh Nicodemus and Justin Simmons.
What you need to know: The Lions are coming into this fall with a clean slate, having graduated 14 seniors and bringing back only two full-time starters. Coach Schroder says that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering he “doesn’t have a lot of bad habits to fix,” after the team won just two county games in 2012.
The roster is small, placing a premium on staying healthy, but there is some definite talent to work with. The senior group, which includes new goalie Accardi, is “aggressive, passionate and has a big desire to win,” according to Schroder. The midfield unit is young, however, could develop into a strength for this year and next. Getting scoring chances shouldn’t be a problem, the key will be finding ways to finish them.
Coach: John Horner
2012 record: 0-11, 0-13
Top players: Seniors Andrew Ellis (MF), Geronimo Hernandez (D) and Bryan Landaverde (MF); sophomores Josh Fawole (MF) and Quentin Valiente (F).
What you need to know: Even after two consecutive winless seasons, there’s optimism surrounding the Lightning program.
There’s a large senior class that makes up most of the team’s 11 returners, including seven total starters that are back. “Their experience will help to lead the squad on to grow from last year’s challenges,” said coach Horner, who also notes that the team will benefit from having a nice contingent of players up from the JV.
Long Reach’s forwards and offensive midfielders should be an area of strength. Valiente had 13 points (5 goals, 3 assists) as a freshman and he will combine with fellow-sophomore Fawole to create a nice one-two scoring punch.
Coach: Kevin Flynn
2012 record: 11-0, 17-0, county, 2A state champions
Top players: Seniors Khalil Anderson (F), Kwame-Owusu Boaitey (D), Andre Chen (MF), Jeff Kammerer (F), Amir Najib# (MF) and Keyan Shasti (MF); junior Patrick Schubert (MF).
What you need to know: The Mustangs will be trying to make a run at an unprecedented fifth consecutive state title this fall with a team featuring a ton of new faces. In fact, there are just five players on the roster that saw meaningful minutes during last year’s playoff run. Coach Flynn says this is the program’s youngest team since 2007.
The returning group is very strong, though, led by the duo of Najib and Kammerer up top. Both were among the top 15 scorers in the county a season ago. Owusu-Boaitey, Anderson and Chen bring a nice mix of speed, poise and skill to the midfield/defensive side of the ball.
With a new goalie and almost a completely new backline of defense, Flynn says it may take a little time for that unit to gel. “It will be important for us to finish opportunities since it will take awhile for the defense to gain experience,” he said.
Coach: Mike Linsenmeyer
2012 record: 7-4, 11-5
Top players: Seniors Zach Andreas (D), Danny Beatty (MF), Nolan Hoolachan (D), Jonathan Horrocks (F) and Anand Pradeep (MF); junior Matt Murphy (GK) and Alec Vaughn (D); sophomores Atticus Cooke (F) and Patrick Palin (MF).
What you need to know: The Vikings were a top half team a season ago, and Coach Linsenmeyer says he expects this group to be as good, if not better, than that squad. A lot of the optimism stems from having a senior class that has really taken a big step forward in the offseason. “Right after the season ended, I challenged the junior class to pick up right where the graduating senior class left off,” Linsenmeyer said. “They’ve really responded. Their leadership has been great.”
Right now, Linsenmeyer says he has 12-13 guys that have established themselves as versatile and hard working. The challenge, this preseason, has been finding where exactly each of those pieces best fit together.
Horrocks and Cooke, a transfer from Gilman, look to be the team’s go-to-guys up top. They will be trying to replace the offensive production of the all-county duo of Emmanuel Wright and Lucas Rose (county-best 14 assists). The rest of the line-up is a pretty even mixture of young and experienced players.
Coach: Don Shea
2012 record: 8-3, 13-4
Top players: Seniors Hans Kouame# (F), Eli Phillips (MF), Garrett Sinclair (D) and Andrew Vincent (MF); junior John Caldwell (MF); sophomore Javier Avetrani (MF).
What you need to know: The Scorpions have established themselves as the deepest program in the county the last few years, so the graduation of 18 guys from the 2012 squad doesn’t sting quite as much as it would otherwise. As Coach Shea puts it, there’s always someone ready to step in.
Oakland Mills features athleticism all over the field, especially up top with Kouame. He is coming off a 19-point season (7 goals and 5 assists) and may be the county’s fastest player in open space. “If he gets the ball up over the top, you’re not going to catch him,” Shea said. “He has tremendous breakaway speed.”
He’ll have help in the scoring department with Caldwell (5 and 5) returning, along with the addition of a couple talented underclassmen. Elsewhere, Phillips is a four-year letterman that was a captain last year. Also keep an eye on Avetrani, who will be a star on defense after deciding not to go the soccer academy route.
Coach: Reg Hahne
2012 record: 7-4, 14-6
Top players: Seniors Kyle Kroll (GK), Michael Peprah (F), Philipp Reichel (F) and Emilio Rodas* (MF); junior Kyle Saunderson (D).
What you need to know: After suffering a few setbacks during the regular season, the Gators caught fire during the postseason and rode the momentum all the way to a state title. Several key pieces from that squad are back, although Coach Hahne says a few of them have been battling injuries during the preseason. Their experience, however, is irreplaceable. “It should give us focus to the fact that the season is long and anything can happen,” Hahne said.
Rodas, Kroll, Peprah and Saunderson will serve as captains. Rodas is a returning first-team all-county player that may be the county’s best on corner kicks and free kicks. Saunderson is the team’s “rock” on defense. Keep an eye on Reichel, who is an exchange student from Germany that is expected to make an immediate impact. Overall, Hahne likes this team’s balance of having strength on defense, creativity in the midfield and speed at forward.
Coach: Matt Shagogue
2012 record: 6-2-3, 10-4-3
Top players: Seniors Derek Farley (MF), Zach Riso* (MF) and Jake Turney* (F); sophomore Mike Heitzmann (MF).
What you need to know: The Hawks haven’t won a county or state championship since 2007, although this year’s team has the talent to change all that. Seven starters are back, including an experienced goalie and Coach Shagogue says the team is excited about the chance to take the next step. “We’ve been close, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump the last six years,” he said.
Riso and Turney are both four-year varsity guys that are coming off first-team all-county seasons. They are the top returning offensive duo in the county after producing a combined 51 points as juniors. Turney, especially, could be in for a breakout season considering teams won’t be able to double-team him the way they have in the past. Heitzmann should help shoulder some of the scoring load after scoring five goals as a freshman.
River Hill will be tested right off the bat with its first two county games coming against Reservoir and Oakland Mills.
Coach: Jon Robinson
2012 record: 4-7, 5-9-1
Top players: Seniors Denys Perez (D), Zach Smythe* (D) and Julio Valles (D); junior Brian Obrochta (MF).
What you need to know: The Wildecats have put together two straight four-win seasons in county play, which is something this year’s squad is aiming to improve upon despite being extremely young. There were 14 seniors that graduated from last fall and in their place is a roster that has seven underclassmen, including four freshmen. “We have a lot of new players in new positions,” Coach Robinson said. “Our success will be dependent on how fast they pick up the level of play at the varsity level.”
Smythe is the leader, having made all-county two straight years. With him, Perez and Valles, Wilde Lake has a trio of established seniors with the ability to excel in the back half of the field. Throw in Obrochta up the middle and the team should have success in playing a ball-control style that will try and dictate the pace of the game.
Chapelgate Christian Academy
Coach: Jason Bennett
2012 record: 2-9-1 MIAA C, 2-9-1
Top players: Senior Sam Rivera (D); juniors Tommy Carlson (GK), Nick Rizzi (D) and Kunle Soniregun (MF); sophomore Charlie Tibbels (F); freshman Marc Little (F).
What you need to know: It’s a young group for the Yellowjackets, who will be trying to push themselves back into the top half of the C Conference standings. In all, there are just four full-time starters back and of the team’s top returning players, only Rivera is a senior.
The good news, though, is that the underclassmen have a ton of potential. Carlson is a stud at goalie, Rizzi is a lock-down defender at fullback and Soniregun is a skilled player in the midfield. Then there’s the promising underclassmen duo of Little and Tibbels up top to jumpstart the offense. It’s just a matter of everything coming together. “As always, chemistry is a huge factor in determining our success,” Coach Bennett said. “The quicker these young men develop trust for each other on and off the field will prove our success or lack thereof.”
Glenelg Country School
Coach: Hal Kenny
2012 record: 0-16 MIAA B, 0-16
Top players: Juniors Cole Chason (D) and Griffin Keane (F); sophomores Reid Chaconas (MF), Sam Smith (MF) and Eric Wootton (GK); freshmen Camden Fisher (D) and Yianni Karabatis (MF).
What you need to know: The Dragons are wiping the slate completely clean after two consecutive winless seasons. Hal Kenny, who has more than a decade of coaching experience with travel teams in the area, takes over as head coach and the team is making the move down to MIAA C Conference. There are just five seniors on the roster and Kenny is going back to basics. “After going 0-36 the last couple years, the returning guys have definitely been humbled,” Kenny said. “I was selected for my style of coaching, which is a disciplined, possession style. There’s going to be a heavy emphasis on technical development so that they feel comfortable with the ball on their feet.”
Working in the team’s favor is the fact that there’s a wealth of young talent to work with. Wootton is a star in the making in net, while Chason will be a leader in front of him on defense. Keane and Chaconas are both returners, while Fisher and Karabatis are freshmen expected to make immediate impacts.