For Bryson Baker, the pain was real.
So was his resolve.
In the aftermath of the announcement on Jan. 6 that the winter sports season in Howard County had officially been canceled, spoiling a chance for the Centennial High senior to build on a second team All-County basketball season as a junior, Baker spent a short period of time lamenting what might have been.
Then he quickly turned frustration into motivation.
“Losing that chance to cap my basketball career, to step on the court again with my teammates, it absolutely hurt. But, at the same time, I vowed to myself that I was going to use that as fuel if we had a soccer season,” Baker said. “I took all my energy and all my focus and shifted it to soccer. If that’s the only season I was going to get, I was going to make sure it was memorable.”
Both individually and as a team, Baker and the Eagles accomplished the mission.
Building on a first team All-County junior season on the pitch where he ranked second in the county with 33 points in 15 games, Baker finished as the county’s leading scorer this spring with 25 points (10 goals and five assists) in 10 games.
He transitioned from his previous forward position to a role as an attacking midfielder and helped Centennial emerge as one of the county’s best teams, finishing with an 8-2 record and earning an appearance in the county championship game.
Now, for his efforts both statistically and as a leader, Baker has been rewarded with the distinction of being the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year.
“Over the past two years, Bryson has grown tremendously in so many different ways. He’s always had incredible quickness, athleticism and leadership — he was a captain on JV as a sophomore — but it wasn’t until his junior year that he took all of those qualities and really started to put everything together,” Centennial coach Justin Thomas said. “And he did have a breakout season as a junior, but this year was just another level because he had that target on his back and still produced.
“He created for himself, he created for his teammates … he had a truly special season.”
Baker said that for as much work he put in individually, just as important to his success was the chemistry he had with his teammates. He created for and fed off the outstanding play of forwards Kodee Karcher and Kevin Salazar (14 points apiece), while also taking advantage of a long-standing rapport with midfielders Eddie Aguilar and Cameron Grable.
“I’ve known several of them since elementary school, and we’ve played together for several years either in high school or on club, so there’s a level of comfort. We know where each other will be, the runs we like to make and where to put the ball,” Baker said.
Thomas said that Baker being all in for this final season was infectious, rubbing off on the players around him. There were offseason meetups that Baker helped put together last spring and summer amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Even in the cold winter months, he didn’t slow down.
“I have never had a captain that has had that much focus and determination, and after basketball was canceled, I saw it go to an even higher level,” Thomas said. “He took the initiative to make sure he was ready.”
Baker came out firing right from the beginning, scoring a goal in each of the Eagles’ first two wins against Glenelg and Oakland Mills. Then, after a shutout loss against Mt. Hebron, he became even more determined — registering a goal and two assists in a win over Marriotts Ridge, all three goals in a victory over Howard, and two goals and two assists in a regular-season win over River Hill.
Even as opponents sent double teams his way and schemed to force the ball elsewhere, Baker was able to continue to thrive thanks to his offseason preparation.
“I built up my strength since last year in terms of being able to hold the ball better,” said Baker, who credited his time at Campanaro Strength and Conditioning along with the work put in with his club coach Pedro Martins. “One of my main focuses was on getting more defined in terms of my technical ability so that I could maneuver in tighter spaces because of the extra attention I was getting.”
While the season ended one victory short of the ultimate goal of a county title with a 1-0 loss against Marriotts Ridge in the tournament championship, Baker said he has no regrets.
“It was a tough game. Marriotts Ridge was the hottest team in the county, and we fell short. But that’s soccer sometimes and I’m still so proud of our guys for all that we did this season,” Baker said. “All that work we put in to get ready for this season was so that we would hopefully give ourselves a chance at the end … and we had that chance to play for a county championship.”
Baker said he plans on continuing his soccer career in college next year as a preferred walk on at Howard University.
Also named to first team All-County:
Isaac Owusu, Hammond, senior
Owusu was among the county’s top three in points as a junior on the way to first-team All-County honors. He lived up to that reputation as a repeat selection this spring, finishing with 19 points (eight goals and three assists) for a Hammond team that won five county games and ranked fourth in the league in goals scored (24).
Opposing teams regularly man-marked him, but that didn’t stop Owusu from producing some huge games. He registered hat tricks in wins over Wilde Lake and Glenelg, while also posting a goal and an assist in a season-opening win over Atholton.
“Isaac showed great dedication to the sport as well as great speed, technical ability and finishing skills,” coach David Reamer said. “He was able to fly by opponents in 1v1 situations and stay calm and composed in front of the goal. After finishing last season as one of the top scorers in the county, he often found himself man-marked or double teamed in many of this year’s matches, but still proved to be a great offensive threat.”
Kevin Salazar, Centennial, senior
When he was on varsity as a sophomore Salazar was primarily a midfielder. This year, having fully transitioned to a role up top, the Eagles’ senior had the most productive season of his career for a Centennial team that made the county championship game.
Salazar finished tied for second on the team with 14 points, scoring five goals and adding four assists. He started the year with two goals in a season-opening win over Glenelg to set the tone for the year. Arguably his biggest goal of the year, though, was accounting for the lone score during regulation for the Eagles in an eventual victory over River Hill in the county tournament semifinals.
“For him, this year was the culmination of all the hard work he has put in on his shooting and developing into a target player who can hold the ball up top. In the end, he was one of our most important players,” coach Justin Thomas said. “He put so much pressure on opposing defenses that it created opportunities for himself and others.”
Jonah Stoutenborough, River Hill, senior
A captain for a second straight season, Stoutenborough continued his progression and growth after making second team All-County as a junior. He was a forward who excelled at creating chances for himself and others on the way to season totals of five goals and four assists (14 points).
“He’s very sharp technically, understands the game really well and does a lot of really good things in the middle of the field,” coach Matt Shagogue said. “It was great to see him grow and develop the last few seasons and deliver in some big games this year as a senior.”
Stoutenborough was one of the team’s go-to-players for penalty kicks, converting attempts during early season victories over Hammond and Atholton. Arguably his best game was a two-goal effort in a 4-2 victory over Marriotts Ridge.
Ethan Wool-Lewis, Mt. Hebron, senior
Wool-Lewis returned to the Vikings this spring after playing Academy as a junior and immediately established himself as one of the county’s most dangerous offensive players. As a sophomore he was a utility player who saw time at outside midfielder and outside back, but this year he transitioned to attack and took off.
“Ethan is a great teammate, so I knew that he would accept whatever position we decided was best. And I think he would have been great no matter where we put him,” coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. “But when you watch his movement off the ball and you see the way he is able to finish, he’s a natural up top and he showed that over and over. He made a lot of goals happen with outstanding effort … simply outworking those around him.”
On the way to finishing as the county leader in goals scored (11) and second in total points (24), Wool-Lewis registered a a goal or assist in nine of the team’s 10 games. He scored multiple goals in wins over Centennial, Reservoir and Hammond.
Kaden Bryan, Marriotts Ridge, sophomore
A Player of the Year candidate, Bryan was an imposing force in the middle of the field for the county-champion Mustangs. He got more and more comfortable in his role as a center attacking midfielder as the season progressed, and with it came improved results for Marriotts Ridge as a team. After a 1-5 start to the year, the Mustangs rattled off five straight wins on the way to a victory in the county tournament title game.
“He became the focal point that our team turned to on the offensive side of the ball and a big part of that was the increased confidence he had,” coach Quinn Khouri said. “He’s one of those rare players that is not only extremely talented but is also unbelievably coachable. He adapted to some changes in our formation as we tried to free up space around him and went out and did everything we asked of him. He was creative and utilized his teammates to establish himself as one of the best players in the county.”
Bryan finished as the county leader in assists (seven) and ranked third in points (23). In four of the team’s six wins he registered at least one goal and one assist, with arguably his best game coming against Howard in the county tournament semifinals — scoring two goals, assisting on a third and then converting his penalty kick in the shootout to help Marriotts Ridge advance.
Jed Dixon, River Hill, senior
As a junior, Dixon was a second team All-County performer on defense while spending time at center back and left back. This year, he transitioned up to a more attacking role in the center of the field and was one of the most dangerous two-way players in the area.
Dixon finished tied for second in the county with 10 goals and also added an assist, while providing a remarkable level of consistency. In all eight of River Hill’s regular season games, Dixon scored at least one goal. Against Marriotts Ridge and Centennial, he scored twice.
“He’s very technically gifted with a big, strong body that I knew would translate to him being an imposing attacking presence,” coach Matt Shagogue said. “You could see it in training over the years, he’s always had the ability to strike a ball and get the ball forward. So, in a lot of ways, it was a natural progression and he obviously excelled. He had a nose for the goal right from the beginning.”
Milan Gupta, River Hill, senior
Joining the Hawks for the first time this spring after playing Academy soccer in previous seasons, Gupta immediately established himself as a tireless worker in the middle of the field. He contributed on both ends, winning balls and sparking the team’s transition game.
“You aren’t going to find a harder working kid who is willing to do the dirty work that a lot of people don’t want to do, both on and off the field. He’s the one staying behind to pick up the ball and the cones … someone setting a real example for the rest of the guys,” coach Matt Shagogue said. “On the field, a lot of his goals were because he was willing to work to get himself into the right spots. He just has tremendous natural instincts and a great attitude.”
During the middle of the season when River Hill rolled off six straight wins, Gupta scored seven times in those contests. Included in that stretch was scoring two times apiece in victories over Wilde Lake and Glenelg. Overall, he finished with nine goals and one assist.
Jimmy Linsenmeyer, Mt. Hebron, junior
While he made second team All-County as a sophomore, Linsenmeyer spent most of that season recovering from knee surgery and was never quite at full speed. Back at full strength, the Vikings defensive midfielder showcased himself as one of the county’s best on a regular basis. He combined with Liam McCaffery to lock down the middle of the field for a Mt. Hebron team that ranked as both the top offensive and defense team in the league.
Linsenmeyer primarily helped out in the back, serving as a key piece for a defense that secured seven shutouts in 10 games, while also pushing forward when needed to contribute four goals and an assist offensively.
“We had him sit in front of the backline, so he had a lot of defensive responsibilities,” coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. “He won a lot of balls in the air and cleaned up mistakes that we might have had. This year he was bigger, faster and took on a leadership role a little more.”
Nathan Macek, Reservoir, junior
A second-team All-County selection as a sophomore, Macek continued his progression on his way to becoming the engine that made the Gators go this spring. He was a midfielder on the left side, tasked with helping in the back as much as he pushed forward. Still, he finished with nine of the team’s 16 goals in 10 games to go along with an assist.
Even more impressive was his ability to deliver in the big moments. He scored the game-winning goal in both of the team’s games against Oakland Mills, in overtime against Hammond, versus Long Reach and in the county tournament quarterfinals against Glenelg. In fact, Macek scored in each of the team’s three postseason contests.
“Nathan worked extremely hard over the summer … being able to shoot with his right foot and I think the hard work showed in being able to understand when to release the ball playing in the final third,” coach David Obeng-Darko said. “He improved both sides of his game … this year he was the first one to get back and defend and then also the first one to go up and be on the end of a counter attack. Being the leading scorer of the team as a sophomore and junior just shows the type of mentality that he has.”
Taylor Nelson, Oakland Mills, senior
There were few players in the area who could match Nelson’s unique mix of talent, physicality and work ethic. He was asked to move from his natural defensive position to a spot in the midfield on the wings to try and get him into space and create offense for the Scorpions.
“He was a matchup problem no matter where he was, and with us usually struggling to create offense, Taylor shouldered a lot of that load. His long throws were a tremendous weapon, one we didn’t take advantage of nearly enough, but it gave our team an identity on offense,” coach Troy Stevenson said. “He was the type of blue-collar player you don’t see that much at this level anymore and played with an unmatched level of physicality.”
Nelson finished the season with eight goals and four assists, having a hand in 12 of the 15 goals that Oakland Mills scored this season. His best performance came in the Scorpions’ regular-season victory over Wilde Lake, as Nelson finished with three goals and two assists in a 5-0 shutout.
Robbie Ryerson, Howard, senior
In his fourth year as a varsity starter, the returning first team All-County midfielder went out this spring and put up his best statistical season to date. Ryerson moved around as needed, spending time at center midfielder and on attack depending on the game situation.
He was the team’s main guy on penalty kicks, converting chances against Reservoir, Long Reach, Marriotts Ridge and Oakland Mills. He finished the season with a career-best nine goals to go along with one assist. Among Ryerson’s season highlights were multiple goals in wins over Glenelg and Reservoir. Even in the team’s loss in penalty kicks in the county tournament semifinals, Ryerson scored two of the Lions’ three goals in regulation.
“Robbie has always been a super hard worker and super positive kid, but his leadership definitely came through as a senior as he helped run some captains practices and really took ownership of this team,” coach Nils Schroder said. “He may have finished as our leading scorer, but that was never what he was worried about. He was always team first and did whatever we asked of him.”
Robby Groman, Marriotts Ridge, senior
Groman stepped into the starting center back role for the first time this spring and established himself as an invaluable piece for a Mustangs team that finished as county champions. Exceptional communication between he and Nick Citro on the backline helped Marriotts Ridge close the season on a five-game winning streak and hold three of those opponents to one goal or less.
“He was an 80-minute player for us, never wanting to come off the field, and his leadership played a major role in our season-ending run,” coach Quinn Khouri said. “His best quality is his range and movement, keeping players in front of him extremely well. And he’s also fantastic in the air both defensively and offensively.”
He ended up saving his best for last. Groman not only scored the game-winning goal against Centennial in the county championship game — his first score of the year — but also anchored the defensive effort that held the Eagles scoreless for only the second time this spring.
Andy Strohman, Mt. Hebron, senior
The Vikings had the county’s stingiest defense, and Strohman was a major reason why. The senior could have easily been a dominant force in the midfield, but coach Mike Linsenmeyer said his ability to hold down the backline made him too valuable to deploy elsewhere.
“He was a great defender, incredibly skilled and so smart. He would always make great decisions under pressure,” Linsenmeyer said. “If things broke down, he was really good at making the correct pass to get us out of trouble. He really just solved so many problems for us.”
Mt. Hebron registered a county-best six shutouts and allowed only five total goals against — 10 fewer than the next best defense. Strohman was in charge of holding down the left flank in the back third. Showcasing his versatility, he also took most of the team’s free kicks in the middle of the field, scoring twice on long balls into the box. He finished the season with five total goals.
Hayden Tootle, Long Reach, senior
A more natural midfielder, Tootle was asked to play defense for the Lightning due to his skill set. According to coach Sylvanus Alves, his leadership, speed and intelligence in the back kept everything organized and thwarted potential dangerous chances for the opposition on countless occasions.
“There were a handful of goals that he stopped in 1-v-1 situations, sometimes even shots that got past the goalie. He just has great instincts and tremendous discipline. He’s always in control and that allows him to play from the back to the front,” Alves said. “Hayden deserves a lot of credit for taking it upon himself to do track training and weight training in the offseason. He was stronger physically and also as a leader. He was a perfect captain … running the show in terms of leadership.”
Long Reach won only three games, but the team did hold five of its 11 opponents to one goal or less. The Lightning earned shutout wins against Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills. Tootle also chipped in with two assists offensively.
Daniel Miranda, Oakland Mills, senior
The Scorpions allowed their fair share of goals this spring, but Miranda’s presence and ability to make the game-altering stop kept Oakland Mills in almost every game it played. Of the team’s eight losses, seven were by one goal.
Miranda finished with 74 saves in nine games, securing a pair of shutout wins against Wilde Lake and also holding four other opponents to just one score. He particularly shined with several huge saves in the team’s 2-1 regular-season win over Marriotts Ridge, which went on to win the county tournament title.
“He has a presence that makes the entire team believe we are in every game because we have him back there,” coach Troy Stevenson said. “Every night he gives you a chance to win because he will make those saves other keepers can’t because of his instincts. He is the definition of a game changer.”
SECOND TEAM ALL-COUNTY
FORWARD: Ryan Hartlove, Howard, senior; Kodee Karcher, Centennial, sophomore; William Song, Marriotts Ridge, senior; Ousman Touray, Wilde Lake, senior
MIDFIELD: Cody Blessing, Marriotts Ridge, senior; Jason Fuentes, Hammond, senior; Cameron Grable, Centennial, junior; Chris Gunning, Reservoir, junior; Liam McCaffery, Mt. Hebron, junior
DEFENSE: Owen Bennett, Reservoir, junior; Brayden Bevels, Howard, senior; Ryan Kryder, Glenelg, senior; Tyriq Umrani, Wilde Lake, senior
GOALIE: Logan Dunn, Mt. Hebron, junior; Walid Khokhar, Hammond, junior
Josh Martins, Atholton, junior midfield; Liam Nesbitt, Wilde Lake senior midfield; Karl Quist-Therson, Howard senior midfield; Joel San Martin, Hammond sophomore midfield; Brandon Sindjui, Hammond senior defense/midfield; Dylan Bradford, Reservoir junior defense; Jack Nelson, River Hill junior defense
Mt. Hebron, 9-1; Centennial, 8-2; River Hill, 7-3; Reservoir, 6-4; Marriotts Ridge*, 6-5; Howard, 5-5; Hammond, 5-6; Wilde Lake, 4-7; Atholton, 3-4; Long Reach, 3-7; Oakland Mills, 3-8; Glenelg, 2-8.
*County tournament champion
Name, School G-A Pts
Bryson Baker, C — 10-5 25
Ethan Wool-Lewis, MH — 11-3 24
Kaden Bryan, MR — 8-7 23
Jed Dixon, RH — 10-1 21
Taylor Nelson, OM — 8-4 20
Jason Fuentes, Ha — 7-5 19
Milan Gupta, RH — 9-1 19
Nathan Macek, Re — 9-1 19
Isaac Owusu, Ha — 8-3 19
Robbie Ryerson, Ho — 9-1 19
Joel San Martin, Ha — 5-6 16
Kodee Karcher, C — 5-4 14
Kevin Salazar, C — 5-4 14
Jonah Stoutenborough, RH — 5-4 14
Alex Likakis, MH — 4-5 13
Ousman Touray, WL — 5-2 12
Liam McCaffery, MH — 3-5 11
Ryan Hartlove, Ho — 4-2 10
Andy Strohman, MH — 5-0 10
Jimmy Linsenmeyer, MH — 4-1 9
Cameron Grable, C — 1-6 8
William Song, MR — 3-2 8
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Tyriq Umrani, WL — 3-2 8