Tryouts for high school fall sports got underway for public schools around the state on Wednesday, ushered in by Howard County teams through waves of practices beginning at sunrise.

Opening day means different things for different programs, with some coaches choosing to focus primarily on conditioning in the early going while others dive right into a somewhat normal practice plan.

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Regardless of the approach, however, there is one prevailing theme that seems to go along with every start to a new season — hope.

For River Hill boys soccer, which went 16-1-1 and lost in a shootout against Oakdale for the 2A state championship last fall, the hope is to build on last year’s nearly flawless campaign and finish what that team started.

River Hill boys soccer senior Alex Krause talks about the upcoming 2019 season, where the Hawks will be looking to repeat as Howard County champions.

The Hawks return seven starters, including their entire backline, and head coach Matt Shagogue was brimming with excitement Wednesday morning as he finally got a chance to get his group back together.

“I think there’s no question for us, knowing the major pieces are in place and the talent that is on this roster, there’s a little more anticipation to finally get back on the field. The returning guys know the expectations and our system, and they can impart that on the new guys, which allows us to jump right in,” Shagogue said. “You can see it already, this is a competitive group that is ready for the new challenge of a new season.”

The first day for Shagogue’s Hawk squad was a fairly even mix of fitness testing and soccer. He says he always starts with the conditioning and lets the make-up of that year’s team determine how quickly he rolls out the balls and lets the guys get after it.

“We are always going to play a little day one and again day two, which gives a great chance to assess everyone. Exactly how much we do, though, is determined by the fitness scores we get at the beginning of the day,” he said. “Each year’s group is just a little different.”

Glenelg field hockey senior Ashley O'Byrne talks about the upcoming season as the Gladiators look to defend their county championship from last fall.

In the case of Glenelg field hockey, varsity coach Nikki Trunzo found herself with a huge group to work with for tryouts Wednesday morning. Running a combined session with the varsity and JV teams, there were roughly 50 girls on hand.

Her approach has always been to jump right in with almost a normal practice session and this year was no different despite the large numbers.

“My strategy is to run through almost a normal practice plan right away because I think it’s the best way to get all the girls reps,” Trunzo said.

The defending county-champion Gladiators, which lost in last year’s state semifinals against Liberty, have a relatively new-look squad after graduating a large senior class and losing rising senior all-county star Kathryn Hoffman to a torn ACL this summer.

Still the expectations don’t change for a Glenelg program that has won outright or shared a piece of 10 of the last 11 field hockey county titles. It’s in that light that Trunzo looks at this preseason as being as important to getting things going in the right direction as any since she joined the program.

Hammond wideout/defensive back Loick Amouzou and linebacker/fullback Gabe Coby discussed their excitement for a new season with first-year head coach Will Bell.

Trunzo’s husband Will Bell, who has taken over at Hammond as head varsity football coach, begins this fall on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. He inherits a Golden Bears’ team that went 2-8 last fall and is looking forward to the hope of a fresh start.

Junior linebacker/fullback Gabe Coby said Bell, who was the head coach at Severna Park before taking the job at Hammond, has already added structure to the football program.

“It’s a different atmosphere here,” Coby said. “… He’s put some more organization in, and we’re looking really good right now.”

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Senior wide receiver/defensive back Loick Amouzou said his initial tiredness that went along with waking up for the 7 a.m. practice quickly was replaced by an excitement for the new season.

“This morning, I woke up a little groggy, but once I got here I was pumped,” said Amouzou, who is also the best boys track hurdler in Howard County. “I got here, and the energy was high.”

River Hill running back/safety Beau Brade discusses the Hawks' upcoming season on the first day of practice.

While Bell is preparing for his first season as Hammond’s coach, River Hill’s Brian Van Deusen is returning to the Hawks for his 19th season at the helm.

With structural change surrounding the upcoming season — like playoff realignment and different schedules — Van Deusen said the mindset doesn’t change for the Hawks, who went 8-4 last year.

“We’re focused on the process, and we just want to get better each week,” Van Deusen said. “We’re just excited to be back at practice, and we’re looking for another good season.”

Senior defensive back/running back Beau Brade, who committed to play at the University of Maryland over the summer, said he thinks the Hawks have “a lot to prove” this season.

“I think me and a lot of the team are excited for the season, because a lot of us are coming back for our third or second year,” Brade said. “… We’re trying to make it really far this year.”

The first official play date this fall for all public school athletics — other than golf which begins play on Aug. 27 — is Friday, Sept. 6. All 12 Howard County football teams will be in action that day.

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