If Grace Dunbar was planning on giving Angie Geralis a birthday present, she no longer needs to.
Dunbar, a freshman on the Wilde Lake girls soccer team, scored a second-half goal to lead the Wildecats to a 1-0 win over River Hill on Tuesday. The victory is Wilde Lake’s first over powerhouse River Hill since 2015 and the first for any Wildecat, including Geralis — a senior who was celebrating her 18th birthday on Tuesday.
“Best birthday present ever from Grace,” Geralis said.
With about 20 minutes remaining in the game, Dunbar won the ball from her defender, sped past the Hawks player and scored near post.
“It’s so cool,” Dunbar said. “I was so excited for this game. I’m so happy.”
The goal is the first of Dunbar’s career, who Wilde Lake head coach Megan Shea said displayed her talent from the beginning of the season.
“It was awesome to see the hard work she’s been putting in pay off,” said Wilde Lake head coach Megan Shea. “We’ve known she has the talent...and to see it realized tonight was a really special moment.”
Dunbar knew she had big shoes to fill coming into this season, with her older sister, Lily Dunbar, as one three Division I players the Wildecats are tasked with replacing this season.
“I knew expectations were high, but I was ready,” Grace Dunbar said. “I was super excited to play, so it wasn’t very intimidating for me.”
Shea said Grace Dunbar’s “biggest asset” is her ability to stay composed, something that has helped her keep up with the transition of playing a faster game against older players.
“She’s someone who can just walk it straight into goal. She won’t freak out when she gets the ball,” Shea said. “Her composure has always been there, and she showed that with her goal today."
An overlooked group of players who helped the Wildecats win, Shea said, were center midfielders Leah Williams and Autumn Wright. The two players helped Wilde Lake keep possession for a significant percentage of the game.
“They were able to control that midfield, and they stopped any sort of breakaway chances and were able to keep forward,” Shea said. “They were some engines. They put in some miles, and I’m proud of how tough and creative they were.”
River Hill head coach Brian Song said his offense, which created only three shots on goal, couldn’t “maintain possession” enough to score in the game at Wilde Lake High School.
The Hawks have lost three games this season after going 17-1 last year. While Song said his teams prepare for the playoff run later in the season, he did say “it’s been a tough season so far.”
“We are banged up. We just have to grind it out. Hopefully some of these girls who are banged up can recover,” Song said. “That’s not an excuse. Wilde Lake deserved to win. They played better than us today.”
Over the past few years, Wilde Lake and River Hill have played several tight games, many of which have gone to overtime.
Last season, the Wildecats’ only two losses were to the Hawks, including a 2-1, double-overtime defeat in the Class 2A playoffs. Last season, River Hill won its third straight 2A state title.
“They’re such a competitive team that we’ve built a natural rivalry between the two of us, but they’ve found that edge,” Shea said. “Tonight, we just were able to find that extra (edge), and it feels awesome the girls were able to accomplish that goal.”
After Wilde Lake’s 3-0 win over Centennial last week, Shea said the Wildecats’ loss to Howard on Sept. 12 was a “wake-up call” for her team. Geralis agreed after the win on Tuesday, adding “anything can happen in any game.”
While it’s early in the season, the win puts Wilde Lake (3-1 Howard County, 5-1) ahead of River Hill (1-1-1, 2-3-1) in the county standings. Last season, River Hill won the county title, with Wilde Lake finishing second.
“Howard County, top to bottom, is such a strong county. On any give night, any team can win,” Shea said. “You have to be prepared for every single game. In the past, it goes down to the very last game in who will be on top of the county.”
Wilde Lake 1, River Hill 0
Goals: WL — Grace Dunbar.
Saves: WL — Hannah Lowry 3; RH — Caroline Duffy 7.