Reservoir’s Kat Parris doesn’t look back on her junior soccer season with the fondest of memories.
Sure, she played great — winning the county’s Player of the Year award.
But she wanted more than that.
The Gators, despite having the top player in the county, experienced a rash of injuries throughout the 2019 season and were below .500.
“My junior year was definitely frustrating,” Parris admitted.
After the season, Parris and the other juniors texted in a group chat, half lamenting the tough season they’d just endured and half game planning how the next season would be different.
Parris’ senior season was, indeed, different.
First, the coronavirus pandemic altered virtually every aspect of the season — a delayed start from August to March, a shortened county-only schedule and a constant fear that one positive COVID test could cause a two-week shutdown.
But, just as Parris and the other seven members of the Reservoir girls soccer Class of 2021 promised, the spring season was also different because the Gators were healthy and determined. Led by a high-scoring attack, an experienced senior class and Parris’ skills and determination, the Gators turned around their misfortunes from 2019 into a 9-2 campaign and a second-place finish in the county tournament.
For her efforts, Parris is a repeat selection as the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“We really wanted to come out this year with a bang,” Parris said. “We were looking forward to having everyone healthy. We felt like we had a lot more to prove. … It was really exciting to ball out one last time in my senior season.”
Parris, a Radford University commit, ended the year with nine goals and four assists in 11 games. She finishes her high school soccer career with back-to-back Player of the Year awards, a first-team All-County selection as a sophomore and a second-team honor as a freshman.
“Obviously I’m spoiled having the opportunity to coach Kat Parris as a player, but also having gotten to know her,” said Reservoir coach Phil Ranker. “... Seeing Kat show up to practice or games and smiling and enjoying the experience and the bond she’s formed with the rest of the girls, it was definitely something special.”
In 14 games as a junior, Parris put up similar numbers as her senior year, tallying nine scores and three assists. But the way she put up those stats couldn’t have been more different.
As a junior, Parris carried Reservoir, scoring more than half the team’s goals as the majority of the starting lineup dealt with injuries.
This season, though, Parris led a high-flying attack alongside juniors Karis Turner and Sophie Davidson and freshman Avery Oergel. Turner, who played inside with Parris, scored eight goals, while Davidson and Oergel combined for 10 scores on the outside.
Ranker and Parris both agreed that her biggest growth this past season is in the trust she allowed herself to put in her teammates.
“For Kat last year, we had so many injuries that we got to a point where basically if we were going to score it was going to be Kat,” Ranker said. “I think the most impressive thing for me was that this year she came in with a trust and an expectation that the players around her were just as capable as she was, and that helped her develop as a passer and a distributor.”
Entering the year, Ranker was eager to see Parris and Turner, a combo he believed could be “special” if both players stayed healthy. The two players shined in 2018, with Turner, a freshman at the time, earning first-team All-County honors.
But the two stars rarely played together due to various injuries. Then, in 2019, Turner missed the entire season with an injury, meaning the spring 2021 season offered the first real opportunity for the two forwards to consistently play together.
“It was a blessing to have the both of them,” Ranker said. “They’re both really strong, really fast, they both have a great touch and they both can — and did — hit a shot in from 40 yards. … I don’t think anyone would argue that we had the highest-scoring offense and the most dynamic presence in the county, and that’s because of Karis and Kat.”
Parris, who is also a star hurdler for Reservoir’s track and field team, said she and Turner both have the same “killer mentality” on the field.
“We’re both aggressive players. We have that physicality and speed. We both want to score goals, and we both want to win the game,” Parris said. “To finally be able to have a season when we’re both healthy was great.”
Reservoir’s season started on a high note with a 2-1 win over River Hill — a team it hadn’t defeated since 2016. The win propelled the squad to seven straight triumphs to start the campaign.
“We felt like we had so much to prove, and knowing River Hill would be that first game lit a fire within us,” Parris said. “... That was a great way to start the season.”
The Gators earned the No. 2 seed in the county tournament and made it to the championship game against Glenelg, which ended with the Gladiators completing their improbable postseason run with a 1-0 win over Parris’ squad.
While the loss was disappointing for Parris and the rest of the Gators, she said in hindsight she’s just grateful she was able to have her senior season amid the pandemic.
“I didn’t even think we’d have a season due to COVID. Just having a season, I feel like we were incredibly fortunate,” Parris said. “As seniors, we wanted to win and compete, but we also wanted to cherish each moment.
“Even with the highs and lows, we found a way to enjoy every moment.”
Also named to first-team All-County (all selections based on voting by Howard County head coaches):
Riley Benson, Mt. Hebron, senior
Vikings coach Tim Deppen said Benson is the definition of a team leader.
As Mt. Hebron’s captain and team MVP, which she was named at the end of the season, Benson was both a star on the field and a leader off it.
“She’s not just the player who wants herself to do well. She wants the team to do well, and she really understands how to go about doing that,” Deppen said. “She really cares about every single kid on the team.”
Benson, a second-team selection as a junior in 2019, led the Vikings with eight goals and two assists. Benson scored in one-goal victories over Reservoir and Glenelg — the two teams that faced off in the county tournament championship — during the regular season. She also scored twice in the Vikings’ 5-1 win over Wilde Lake in the tournament quarterfinals.
Her best moment, though, was a game-winning goal in overtime to give Hebron a 1-0 win over the Wildecats during the regular season.
Danielle Campbell, Howard, senior
No player in Howard County scored more goals than Campbell.
The Towson commit scored 13 goals in Howard’s 11 games, including the best performance for any county player all season. In a first-round playoff game against Atholton, Campbell scored a career-high four goals to lead the Lions to a 5-2 victory.
Howard coach Laine Angle said Campbell’s exemplary season was even more fun to watch considering it almost didn’t happen due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“She deserved it,” Angle said. “She worked really hard all four years. She’s grown so much since her freshman year. She’s a great player who brought her all this year.”
Along with her outstanding game against the Raiders, Campbell also led the Lions to key wins over Atholton and Centennial in the regular season. Against Atholton, Campbell scored in the 99th minute in the second overtime period for the game-winner, and versus the Eagles, she scored both of the Lions’ goals in a 2-1 triumph.
Campbell was also a first-team selection as a junior, scoring nine goals in 15 games.
Karis Turner, Reservoir, junior
Turner, often regarded as one of the most talented players in the county, was an integral part of the Gators’ success this season.
As the other half of Reservoir’s dynamic duo with Parris, Turner was excellent in her own right on the way to scoring eight goals and adding four assists.
As a freshman in 2018, Turner was an instant star and earned first-team All-County honors. But she missed her entire sophomore season due to an injury, and her return to the pitch this spring was felt instantly when she scored a goal in Reservoir’s first game of the season — a win over River Hill for the first time since 2016.
“Karis is a very special player,” Ranker said. “I anticipate next year...that she’ll be in competition for Player of the Year because of her production and her talent. But she’s so dedicated to making herself a better player in practice that it’s a joy to watch her in individual drills to see her become the star she is.”
Ally Clearfield, Atholton, senior
A four-year varsity player, Clearfield was key on both offense and defense for the Raiders.
The UMBC commit scored four goals and had three assists in 10 games. Her top game was a two-goal performance in the Raiders’ 3-1 win over River Hill during the regular season.
Atholton coach Clifford Walcott said Clearfield was both one of the team’s top offensive threats and top defenders.
“She’s very athletic, and she strikes the ball very well,” said Walcott. “She played both sides of the ball very well. Defensively, she’s terrific, and I think our girls have learned a lot from her.”
Sophie Davidson, Reservoir, junior
Ranker believes at some point in a soccer player’s high school career, something just “clicks” that turns a good player into a great one.
That, Ranker said, is what happened this season with Davidson. The junior, one of the fastest players in the county, emerged as a consistent contributor for the highest-scoring offense in the county with four goals and four assists. Along with Parris, Davidson scored in the Gators’ semifinal win over Mt. Hebron to advance to the county title game.
“She became the player this year that I always knew she’d become,” Ranker said. “It was so nice to see it all come together for her in terms of ability, speed, confidence and joy and that she was contributing to the team every time out.”
Megan Wagner, Marriotts Ridge, junior
Wagner started off her junior campaign fast, scoring or having an assist in each of the Mustangs’ first four games, taking part in six of the team’s first nine goals.
In the team’s season-opening 2-0 win over Mt. Hebron, she scored the team’s first goal and assisted on the second.
“This season, she was on a mission, and she started with the very first game,” Darius Qualls said. “She was really on fire this year, and I’m expecting even more from her next year as a senior.”
As one of the team’s captains, Qualls said her “maturity” this season was on full display.
“She has really matured,” Qualls said. “She’s always been a mature player, but stepped into a leadership role this year as a junior and excelled.”
She ended the season as one of the leaders on the county’s points leaderboard, scoring six goals and adding seven assists.
Aicha Wilson Wilde Lake, senior
Along with Parris, Wilson’s excellence can’t be described by just one season but rather by her entire career for the Wildecats.
As coach Kristyn Neubauer said, Wilson was the “whole package” for the Wilde Lake girls soccer program. As a four-year varsity player, the speedy Wilson played defense, midfield and attack, helped lead the program to a state championship game and was exemplary in the classroom with a 4.65 GPA.
After playing defense as a freshman, Wilson was a second-team All-County pick as a sophomore and a first-team selection in 2019, when she ranked third in the county in points with 32. This season, Wilson tallied five goals and four assists. In her career, she amassed 18 goals and 23 assists.
“Everyone in the county knows who Aicha Wilson is,” Neubauer said. “You’d be hard pressed to find out who the best in the county is, especially when you consider all four years, not just her senior year. Her speed both on and off the ball, her ability to see plays before they happen is amazing.”
Morgan Choe, Marriotts Ridge, senior
For the second straight year, Choe has been the best defender on the best defense in the county.
Last season, Choe, whose twin sister Jordyn is also an All-County contributor at forward, was stout at center back for a Mustangs team that won the county title and allowed only 0.6 goals per game. This season, the Choe-led Mustangs allowed only two goals in 10 games — by far the lowest in the county. She also chipped in with one goal.
Marriotts Ridge went 8-1-1 this season, with its only loss being in penalty kicks to eventual county-champion Glenelg.
“We’re certainly going to miss her,” Qualls said. “She’s been a tremendous leader and mentor for our younger players. Morgan was a bright spot this season as a teammate and a leader. Her dribbling and passing skills are exceptional.”
Sam Gucchait, Reservoir, senior
After tearing her ACL and missing the majority of her junior season, Gucchait proved she was one of the top defenders in the county this season.
The senior led a Reservoir defense that allowed an average of only one goal a game, which was tied for second lowest in the county.
“The first thing I think of when I think of Sam is resiliency,” Ranker said. “I’m really thankful we had a season this year, because it was a blessing for the girls like Sam who were injured last season. For her to battle back from such a devastating injury when she looked like such a strong player her junior year and to fight hard to get back and to earn first-team All-County honors is a testament to her dedication.”
Gucchait scored a goal and had six assists — an impressive number of helpers for a defender. Ranker said she was “exceptional” on set pieces this season.
Payton Holmes, Long Reach, senior
Leading a program that took a step up this season, Holmes was one of the top defenders in Howard County.
The senior captain paced a defense that allowed one goal or less in six of the Lightning’s 11 games. Holmes, a second-team pick last season, even scored three goals — two penalty kicks and a free kick — for Long Reach (4-6-1) this season.
“She was excellent this year,” said coach Oliver Male. “There’s nothing she can’t do. She’s technically sound and solid, and she wasn’t afraid to put the team on her back sometimes. In my opinion, as a one-on-one defender, I believe she was the best in the county.”
Most important, Male said, Holmes mentored the young Lightning. With 13 underclassmen, including seven freshmen, Holmes — who is also co-President of Long Reach’s Class of 2021 — both led by example and in a hands-on way.
“She was everything you want from a captain and a leader,” Male said. “She made a real impression with the freshmen, guiding them through. She’s going to be a huge miss for the program and the school come August.”
Katie Ringer, Glenelg, senior
Gladiators coach Vincente D’Antuono said Ringer has been the program’s “unsung hero” for the past few years.
A four-year starter on varsity, Ringer’s stout defense in the middle of Glenelg’s backline led the Gladiators all the way to a county championship.
“She really was the anchor of the defense,” D’Antuono said. “She’s a very solid player, and we were fortunate to have her. The program is going to miss her.”
Glenelg (8-3-1) allowed just 11 goals in 12 games, including only two in its four victories in the county tournament. Rarely, D’Antuono said, did opposing teams score coming up the middle, and he said that’s a testament to Ringer’s consistency.
“She’s a quiet, hard-working player,” D’Antuono said. “She hasn’t received a lot of accolades even though her performance on the field has been incredible. She won tackles, kept possession of the ball and handled tough assignments with grace and poise.”
Caroline Duffy, River Hill, junior
Before Duffy played a single high school soccer game, some of the county’s coaches knew the Hawks had one of the most talented goalkeepers in the area.
After back-to-back second-team All-County campaigns as a freshman and sophomore, Duffy earned first-team honors this year by leading a River Hill defense that allowed the second-fewest goals in the county. She pitched four shutouts, including a 3-0 regular-season win over eventual county-champion Glenelg and a scoreless tie against Marriotts Ridge.
“She is very mature for her age and she took ownership of the team even as a junior,” said Hawks coach Brian Song. “She is natural born leader, and beyond stats, she was able to pull the team [together] during tough situations on the field as well as throughout this tough season.”
COACH OF THE YEAR:
Phil Ranker, Reservoir
Ranker and his assistants (Anna Janush, Andre Dechao and Nick Valenti) led the Gators to a 7-1 regular season record and a second-place finish in the county tournament.
After going 5-6-3 and winning only two county games in 2019, Ranker and the Gators started the spring 2021 campaign with seven straight victories. Reservoir, the highest-scoring team in the county, was dominant throughout the season with a total goal differential of plus-20.
“I always appreciated his commitment towards the team. He always made sure his players’ well-being and education was first priority,” said Parris. “He talked heavily on the fact that every game could be our last due to the unknown of this pandemic, and I feel like that definitely allowed us to be more focused and driven throughout the season. We all saw our potential as a team, and the expectations he had as a coach encouraged us to reach that potential.”
Ranker, who just wrapped up his seventh season at the helm, has a career record of 61-33-9.
Second Team All-County
Jordyn Choe, Marriotts Ridge, senior, forward
Stephanie Lathrop, Glenelg, freshman, forward
Ara Omitowoju, River Hill, junior, forward
Lauren Pellegrini, Centennial, junior, forward
Carolyn DeSena, Centennial, senior, midfielder
Jillian Ingram, Wilde Lake, senior, midfielder
Sarah Lathrop, Glenelg, senior, midfielder
Alex Masse, Mt. Hebron, senior, midfielder
Ashlyn Bonner, Wilde Lake, junior, defender
Cicely Clark, Centennial, senior, defender
Skylar Ehart, Howard, junior, defender
Ana Hoover, Mt. Hebron, junior, defender
Camryn Johnson, Hammond, senior, defender
Lilly Smull, Oakland Mills, junior, defender
Paige Andrews, Oakland Mills, freshman, goalkeeper
Final Spring 2021 Standings
Glenelg: 8-3-1 (county champion)
Marriotts Ridge: 8-1-1 (regular season champion)
Mt. Hebron: 7-2
River Hill: 5-4-1
Wilde Lake: 5-5-1
Long Reach: 4-6-1
Oakland Mills: 1-9