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River Hill girls soccer looks to stay grounded in pursuit of fourth straight state title

River Hill's Jamie Caine celebrates her goal during the 2A South region championship against Calvert at River Hill High School on Monday, November 5, 2018. Caine and the Hawks are hoping to win their fourth state title this season.
River Hill's Jamie Caine celebrates her goal during the 2A South region championship against Calvert at River Hill High School on Monday, November 5, 2018. Caine and the Hawks are hoping to win their fourth state title this season. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

No player on River Hill’s girls soccer roster this fall has ended a high school season as anything other than a state champion.

Last year, the Hawks earned the program’s third straight Class 2A state championship and 13th all time.

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With that level of success, it’s possible for most teams to become complacent. However, sophomore goalie Caroline Duffy said the Hawks aren’t like most teams.

“I think in order to stay motivated we all go in with a common goal,” Duffy said. “We know we won’t get where we want to get by [becoming] complacent just because we won in previous years. That’s a mentality thing that comes from our coaches and from the leaders of the program from class to class. We know we have to work hard every day in order to get back to the state championship.”

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Head coach Brian Song said he doesn’t need to keep his players grounded as much as other coaches may in a similar situation. Song, who is entering his 15th season leading the Hawks, said his players are emotionally and mentally mature enough to realize state championship trophies aren’t easy to come by.

Senior midfielder Sophia Elguera and sophomore goalie Caroline Duffy talk River Hill soccer during a preseason practice.

“We’ve had incredible buy in from the kids, and I’m very fortunate [to have] them,” Song said. “I have a group of good kids. There are a lot of programs with talented soccer players, but we have a good pecking order from underclassmen to juniors to seniors.”

Senior midfielder Jamie Caine said a key for the Hawks’ success is the structure of the program. Senior leadership has long been the cornerstone of the team, Caine said, and now she’s eager to make her own mark on the program.

“I am excited to be a leader,” Caine said. “Our program is built on seniority. On the field, I feel like when someone is confused, they ask me the question, and that makes me feel good to give them my input on how to make us better.”

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Song said he’s excited to see how the members of the senior class evolve into leaders.

River Hill girls soccer coach Brian Song gives instructions to his team during a scrimmage in the fall.
River Hill girls soccer coach Brian Song gives instructions to his team during a scrimmage in the fall. (Doug Kapustin, Baltimore Sun)

“I expect a lot more from my seniors than any other class,” he said. “They’ve all gone through it with me. It’s now time for them to come out of their shell. They’ve been biding their time to be leaders, and now it’s their time.”

Despite the Hawks’ confidence, they know winning a fourth straight state title — and 14th overall — may be even more difficult than the past three years.

The Hawks are tasked with replacing five seniors from last year’s squad, including Co-Player of the Year Brigette Wang, who is now playing at MIT, and first-team All-County defender Danielle Poindexter.

River Hill senior forward Brigette Wang headlines the 2018 girls soccer All-County teams.

“We have a bunch of spots we need to fill,” Song said. “It’s pretty early in the season. The potential is there, but we’ve got a long way to go. I always tell the girls we need to be ready in October and November. That’s our goal.”

Replacing seniors isn’t the only challenge. River Hill, which has won the last three state titles in Class 2A, is moving up to Class 3A this year. The Hawks will be one of nine Howard County teams in 3A, and instead of battling teams like Calvert and Walkersville in 2A, they’ll join Linganore and Thomas Johnson as some of the top teams in 3A.

River Hill's Sophia Elguera, left, gets set to kick the ball away as she's pressured by Wilde Lake's Jillian Ingram during the 2A south regional girls soccer playoff game at River Hill High School on Thursday, Nov. 1.
River Hill's Sophia Elguera, left, gets set to kick the ball away as she's pressured by Wilde Lake's Jillian Ingram during the 2A south regional girls soccer playoff game at River Hill High School on Thursday, Nov. 1. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

“I think we can compete in the biggest classifications,” Caine said. “When my sister was at River Hill, they were playing in 3A. If she can do it at 3A, I want to be able to do it in a bigger classification, too.”

In addition to reclassification, the MPSSAA is introducing a new playoff format this season. Each region is still separated into two sections, but under the new system, the winner of each section — now called “Region I” and “Region II” — advances to the state quarterfinals, which will be re-seeded 1-8 based on regular season winning percentage.

The old format pitted section champions from the same region against one another in a region championship to advance to the state semifinal round. The potential is now there for two teams in the county to play in a state final.

“I think it will be good for Howard County,” Song said. “At least with the new playoff format and the re-seeding, it will be fortunate for us to not have to play as many Howard County teams in the playoffs. The re-seeding means you have to be on all season. You can’t take a game or two off.”

Among the Hawks’ top players this season are seniors Sophia Elguera and Caine, along with sophomores Allison Radcliffe, Erin Regan and Duffy.

“I think I’m prepared this year for some of the expectations of what the game’s going to throw at me and what my role needs to be now,” Duffy said.

Song believes Duffy is one of the top five goalkeepers in the state.

River Hill goalie Caroline Duffy knocks the ball away during the girls soccer game against Wilde Lake at River Hill High School in Clarksville on Tuesday, October 9, 2018.
River Hill goalie Caroline Duffy knocks the ball away during the girls soccer game against Wilde Lake at River Hill High School in Clarksville on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. (Jen Rynda / BSMG)

“Just from last year to this year, the maturity over the last nine months, she has grown tremendously,” he said.

As a defensive midfielder, Caine said Duffy’s strength is her communication with the defense.

“I know when Caroline sees something, she’s going to yell it out,” Caine said.

River Hill starts the season with possibly their toughest game of the season. The No. 2-ranked Hawks play No. 3 Archbishop Spalding on Saturday, Sept. 7. The Hawks also play No. 4 South River in late September.

“If we lose and take a beating in September, who cares?” Song said. “We learn from some of those. That’s why I want to play some of those (top teams). I think it makes these girls much better in the long run. I don’t want to play an easy schedule, because that doesn’t help you at the end of the season.”

The other top teams in the county from last season — Wilde Lake, Reservoir and Marriotts Ridge — also lost key pieces.

Wilde Lake senior defender Angie Geralis previews the Wildecats' 2019 girls soccer season on the second day of fall practice.

The No. 7-ranked Wildecats graduated Julianne Bonner, Lily Dunbar and Jenna Hutchison — all of whom are now playing Division I soccer. Bonner is at Lehigh, while Dunbar is at Drexel and Hutchison is playing at George Mason.

Numbers wise, it doesn’t look like we lost that much,” said head coach Megan Shea. “We only lost four seniors. But the talent that those three had was incredible. Replacing them is no easy task. I would say, on the bright side, that we have 19 returning varsity team members, and most of those 19 have two years of varsity experience.”

Despite the departures, Wilde Lake brings back three all-county players in senior defender Angie Geralis, sophomore forward Gia Johnson and junior midfielder Aicha Wilson from a squad that went 13-2-1 last season. The Wildecats’ biggest question mark heading into the season is who will take over for Hutchison in goal.

Reservoir, meanwhile, hopes to start hot again like it did last season. The No. 11-ranked Gators began the season 9-1-2 before ending the season with three straight losses.

Senior midfielder Tessa Cinotti talks Reservoir girls soccer during a preseason practice.

“They have a bad taste in their mouth from how the season ended last year,” said head coach Phil Ranker.

Despite graduating three first-team All-County seniors in Blair Vant Hoff, Emily Dorn and Mia Smiraglia, Reservoir returns two all-stars in junior Kat Parris and sophomore Karis Turner.

“We had a strong senior class. We graduated about 11 girls, including a couple who were at various points in time All-County and All-State,” said Ranker. “We lost a lot of skill and a lot of experience, but I’m pretty confident in saying this is the most skill we’ve had from top to bottom. We had a lot of girls last year who were on varsity but didn’t get to play as much because of that senior experience. Now it’s their time.”

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Marriotts Ridge senior defender Lindsey Hockensmith talks Mustangs girls soccer before the start of the 2019 season.

Marriotts Ridge hopes to replace All-County players Aly Wagner and Ashley Fisher. The Mustangs bring back six starters from a squad that finished 9-4-1 last season.

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While Reservoir and Marriotts Ridge both lost to River Hill in the Class 2A playoffs, Mt. Hebron made a significant run in the 3A playoffs. After going 4-7-1 in the regular season, the Vikings won four straight games to start the playoffs before losing to Thomas Johnson in the 3A state semifinals.

Mt. Hebron senior goalie Ainsley Sowers talks Vikings girls soccer before the start of the 2019 season.

Glenelg loses Madelyn Nichols, the team’s only All-County player from last season, but eyes to improve on its 6-8-1 record in Christian von Rautenkranz’s second season.

Howard brings back five starters from last year’s team that went 3-11-2. Head coach Laine Angle said the Lions’ strengths are on defense and in the midfield.

Hammond and head coach April Motaung return 10 starters. Motaung said “confidence” is a key for the Golden Bears heading into this season.

After finishing 0-15 in 2017, Oakland Mills improved to 9-5 last season and return six starters from that team.

There are four new coaches this season: Clifford Walcott at Atholton, Hank Hurren at Centennial, Oliver Male at Long Reach and Athena Gramates at Glenelg Country.

The Raiders return 10 players with significant playing experience from a team that went 6-6-2 overall last season. The Eagles, meanwhile, bring back All-County senior forward Carolina Pelligrini and senior goalie Ashley Bilger, while the Lightning welcome back two All-County players in senior midfielder Paige Rosenfeld and junior defender Payton Holmes.

Glenelg Country went 1-7 last season in the IAAM A Conference after a successful B Conference season in 2017, along with an undefeated 2015 campaign in the C Conference. The Dragons will move back down to Conference B this season.

Jen Yahiro returns for her second season as head coach at Chapelgate, which competes in the IAAM C Conference. Last season, the Yellowjackets improved from 0-13 in 2017 to 3-9-1.

Here’s a look at all 14 county teams entering the 2018 season:

Atholton

Coach: Clifford Walcott

2018 record: 5-3-2 county, 6-6-2 overall

Returning starters: 10

Top players: Senior Keenan Proctor (MF); junior Ally Clearfield (MF); sophomore Ava Morales (A/MF).

Coach’s corner: “I have 10 (returning starters), and they earned their positions on this year’s team. If we have any success this year, they will be our core performers.” — head coach Clifford Walcott

Centennial

Coach: Hank Hurren

2018 record: 4-5-1, 6-6-2

Returning starters: 5

Top players: Seniors Ashley Bilger (GK) and Carolina Pellegrini (A).

Coach’s corner: “One could surely consider the challenge the ladies must face to adjust to a new coach after the many very good years provided by coach Baxter. It is always a psychological and mental adjustment and challenge when a change in management is made. It will surely be a test of mental strength and personal character for these ladies.” — head coach Hank Hurren

Glenelg

Coach: Christian von Rautenkranz

2018 record: 4-5-1, 6-8-1

Returning starters: 7

Top players: Seniors Hallie Koele (D) and Amy Brinster (MF); juniors Kendall Castor (GK), Katie Ringer (D) and Tegan Swope (MF).

Coach’s corner: “Last season was the first for our coaching staff. It was an opportunity to assess the state of our program, right the ship a tad and begin to make preparations moving forward. Our goal from day one was to help change the culture of the girls program at (Glenelg) and to become relevant again in the ultra competitive Howard County league and state playoffs. While we were competitive last year and won a few games, the time for moral victories is over. This year, we intend to compete for county and state championships.” — head coach Christian von Rautenkranz

Hammond

Coach: April Motaung

2018 record: 0-11-0, 1-14-0

Returning starters: 10

Top players: Juniors Camryn Johnson (D), Maya Lane (D) and Grace Yodizs (D); sophomores Ana Comen (F) and Laura Keister (MF).

Coach’s corner: “I feel confident that with this group of players we have a solid core of strong players to build on how the season ended last year and assist our new strong players into the development of our team and strategy.” — head coach April Motaung

Howard

Coach: Laine Angle

2018 record: 1-8-1, 3-11-2

Returning starters: 5

Top players: Seniors Emma Filler (MF/D), Kelly Schluderburg (MF/D), Isabella Kushner (MF), Nuela Fonmedig (A) and Maya Rawlings (A); junior Danielle Campbell (MF).

Coach’s corner: “Experience will help, but the new starters will benefit by bringing a lot of skill and aggression to the field. … We have a strong midfield and defensive base. (We are) looking to press that strength into our offensive third.” — head coach Laine Angle

Long Reach

Coach: Oliver Male

2018 record: 5-6-0, 5-8-0

Returning starters: 4

Top players: Senior Paige Rosenfeld (MF); juniors Payton Holmes (D) and Alexis Richardson (D); sophomores Hannah Williams (D) and Carmen Lloyd (MF).

Coach’s corner: “(We are) looking to play a certain style that I believe will cause other schools and teams problems when we look to attack and go forward and to hopefully finish the season with a positive record.” — head coach Oliver Male

Marriotts Ridge

Coach: Darius Qualls

2018 record: 6-3-1, 10-5-1

Returning starters: 6

Top players: Senior Lindsey Hockensmith (D); juniors Morgan Choe (D) and Jordyn Choe (A); sophomores Megan Wagner (MF) and Sydney Brewer (MF).

Coach’s corner: “While we are a relatively young squad this season, I expect this team to perform in the same competitive fashion as we did in 2018. Regardless of the player make-up on this team, we will never let anything negative stand in our way to successfully compete against any opponent.” — head coach Darius Qualls

Mt. Hebron

Coach: Tim Deppen

2018 record: 3-7-0, 8-8-1, Class 3A state semifinalist

Returning starters: 7

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Top players: Seniors Ainsley Sowers (GK), Julia Noppenberger (MF), Maddie Hammond (A) and Mia Flack (MF); junior Alex Masse (MF).

Coach’s corner: “We do look to have a very complete team from back to front this year, and our roster is stacked with talent. However, if I had to pick one area that has me impressed so far this season, it would be our attack. We have so many players that are true goal scorers, and we have speed in many different positions. We are a smart team and very technically and tactically gifted.” — head coach Tim Deppen

Oakland Mills

Coach: Hassan Mostafa

2018 record: 1-1-0, 9-5-0

Returning starters: 6

Top players: Senior Haley Barham (D); sophomore Lilly Smull (D).

Coach’s corner: “Overall, we have a much younger team this year, and I could see experience playing into things.” — head coach Hassan Mostafa

Reservoir

Coach: Phil Ranker

2018 record: 6-3-1, 9-4-2

Returning starters: 7

Top players: Seniors Tessa Cinotti (MF) and Trinity Yang (MF); juniors Mia Smiraglia (MF), Kat Parris (A/MF) and Lizzie Dudzinski (GK); sophomore Karis Turner (A).

Coach’s corner: “​I feel the strength of our team this year is our midfield. We return a lot of experience there, and we should be able to do a good job in the middle third of the pitch in terms of controlling the pace of the game. We have some extremely creative offensive-midfield players, as well as some very responsible defensive-midfield players and some exceptional speed as well. It should make for a strong unit if all of the pieces come together.” — head coach Phil Ranker

River Hill

Coach: Brian Song

2018 record: 11-0-0, 17-1-0, Class 2A state champions

Returning starters: 6

Top players: Seniors Sophia Elguera (D), Chelsea Baker (MF), Jaime Caine (MF); sophomore Caroline Duffy (GK).

Coach’s corner: “I think the (strength) of our team is our defense, as I do believe we have the best goalkeeper in (Caroline Duffy).” — head coach Brian Song

Wilde Lake

Coach: Megan Shea

2018 record: 8-1-1, 13-2-1

Returning starters: 8

Top players: Seniors Angie Geralis (D), Nicole Wright (D); junior Aicha Wilson (MF); sophomore Gia Johnson (A).

Coach’s corner: “Wilde Lake has a lot of returning players that have many years of varsity experience. Although we will greatly miss our four players who graduated last year, we are looking for several of our players to really step up and take on a larger role than in recent years.” — head coach Megan Shea

Chapelgate

Coach: Jen Yahiro

2018 record: 2-7-1 IAAM C, 3-9-1

Returning starters: 7

Top players: Senior Sage Christianson (MF/D); juniors Katherine Moresberger (A/GK), Jessica Zhong (A/MF).

Coach’s corner: “We have seven returning starters. This will be a huge positive factor for us, because the girls have one year of experience under their belt and now have a better idea of what to expect.” — head coach Jen Yahiro

Glenelg Country

Coach: Athena Gramates

2018 record: 1-7 IAAM A, 5-11

Returning players: 10

Top players: Senior Gracie Pacylowski; juniors Celia Pell, Caroline Rehder; sophomores Maggie Weisman, Corrin Grimes.

Coach’s corner: “The team as a whole has been impressive in having such connection and support from the first day of preseason. Every player has already played a significant role in the 2019 season, and we are looking forward to what’s to come.” — head coach Athena Gramates

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