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Hensh takes own path to Howard County girls lacrosse Player of Year honors

Victoria Hensh’s earliest memories in a Marriotts Ridge lacrosse jersey don’t involve a lacrosse stick.

Instead, Hensh recalls sitting in the stands as an elementary school student with her face painted, pom-poms in hand and donning whatever uniform her older sister Taylor wasn’t wearing that day. It was back then — cheering at the top of her lungs for a Marriotts Ridge girls lacrosse program that won three state championships between 2011 and 2014 — that her time as a Mustang began.

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This spring, that journey came to a fitting conclusion.

As a senior captain for a Marriotts Ridge squad that returned to the top of the standings with its first county title since 2016, Hensh registered a league-best 74 goals and 85 points en route to garnering the Howard County girls lacrosse Player of the Year award. She becomes the first Mustang to be named Player of the Year since her sister in 2014 and her goal total is the highest by a Marriotts Ridge player since Taylor had 87 during that same campaign.

But more than anything, she etched her name on a line all alone in the record books.

“There are no words that can possibly describe what this means to me. It’s surreal. I grew up watching Taylor and my brother Troy at Marriotts Ridge, working as hard as I could so that one day I would be just like them,” she said. “But as much as I idolized them, I knew that I would have to set my own path and be my own person. And I remember my parents specifically telling me not to take Taylor’s number, No. 21 … those are huge shoes to try and fill.

“That’s why this means so much, though … I have lived and breathed Marriotts Ridge lacrosse for as long as I can remember. To know that my name is now alongside some of those all-time greats is nothing short of a dream come true.”

The fact that Victoria is leaving behind a legacy that mirrors that of her siblings Taylor and Troy — a two-time boys lacrosse All-County selection — should come as no surprise. Victoria’s competitive spirit was born through backyard battles with her siblings.

“It was a bloodbath in the backyard,” Hensh said. “We had Hector the Rejecter hanging in the net, and we just went after it. They never took it easy on me just because I was younger than them. I had to learn to fight for the ball.”

Marriotts Ridge coach Amanda Brady said Victoria’s scrappiness, even when she was an undersized freshman, has always been one her defining characteristics.

Her first year in high school, she came off the bench and served mainly as a supporting piece, scooping up ground balls and scoring the occasional goal. But with each passing season, Hensh’s offensive proficiency increased.

She had 39 points as a sophomore (33 goals) and 56 (45 goals) as a junior, leading up to her county-leading numbers this year as a senior.

Through it all, Hensh never lost the willingness to do the little things that win games: draw controls and earning her team possession. She finished with 92 draw controls as a senior this spring.

“Victoria has always been one of the grittiest players on the field, never shying away from doing the dirty work. That’s when I think the competitor in her really shines through,” Brady said. “When we needed a ground ball, she was the first one in there fighting for it.”

And once Hensh got possession, Brady adds that there were few better at knowing how to finish.

“Her spin move is the fastest I’ve seen, and the scary thing is that people knew it was coming and they still couldn’t stop it,” Brady said. “And, at the end of the day, her consistency across the board was downright impressive. Not one team this year was able to completely shut her down.”

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Hensh finished her senior season with at least two goals in every game, saving some of her best efforts for the biggest contests. In her mind, however, no performance meant more than the five goals she scored in a 10-8 victory over Glenelg during the regular season — giving Marriotts Ridge its first victory over the Gladiators since Hensh was a freshman.

“That will go down as my favorite game of my whole high school career, especially because it brought things full circle for me and a couple of the other seniors — Erin Cooke and Katie Thompson — who have been on varsity since we were freshmen,” Hensh said. “All the hard work we had put in felt like it paid off, and even though it was during the regular season, it had a state championship feel.”

While Glenelg returned the favor in the playoffs with a 10-9 victory that cut the Mustangs’ season short of their ultimate goal of a state championship, Hensh said she has no regrets when looking back at her high school career.

Now she’s ready to embark on the next chapter, joining a University of Maryland team that is fresh off capturing a national championship. She will again be following in the footsteps of her sister who wrapped up a stellar four-year career with the Terps in 2018 as a team captain and every-game starter.

Brady believes, though, that Victoria has what it takes to blaze her own path at the next level as well.

“Victoria has that drive and a work ethic that I feel like will help her succeed at anything she puts her mind to,” Brady said. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”

Named to the All-County first team are:

The All-County team for the 2019 Howard County girls lacrosse season.
The All-County team for the 2019 Howard County girls lacrosse season. (Chart)
ATTACK

Gracie Kennedy, Marriotts Ridge, junior. The only county player this spring to finish with more than 30 goals and 30 assists, Kennedy more than doubled her scoring production from her sophomore campaign. Her 68 points (37 goals and 31 assists) ranked her fourth overall in the county.

Among her best efforts were five-goal games in wins over South River and Centennial, along with a four-goal and five-assist effort against Atholton.

“She has amazing stick work, which really set her up for success in terms of both finishing and feeding,” Marriotts Ridge coach Amanda Brady said. “Her ability to find a cutter, while still being a threat to go to goal, is very impressive.”

Brady adds that Kennedy, who has committed to play at Virginia Tech, was just as valuable on defending clears thanks to her strong footwork.

Ellie Miller, Mt. Hebron, senior. On a Vikings team filled with young talent, Miller was the steady presence and leader by example that the team needed to bring everything together. “She really exemplified poise and composure, and while Ellie has always been more of a quiet leader, she’s great at taking the younger players under her wing to make them feel comfortable,” Mt. Hebron coach Lindsay Menton said.

Miller finished as Mt. Hebron’s leader in points with 48 (45 goals and three assists) en route to garnering first-team honors for a second straight spring. She surpassed 100 career goals this year. But just as important as the scoring, according to Menton, was Miller’s contributions on the draw control — winning 79 on the season.

“It’s never been all about stats with her, which I think speaks to her personality,” Menton said. “But in those clutch situations, she knew when to assert herself, put her foot on the gas pedal and step up to do whatever we needed to be successful.”

Kate Sites, Glenelg Country, senior. After missing all but two games of her junior season because of an injury, Sites returned this spring to put together a dominant campaign. The University of Maryland signee was the leading scorer for the Dragons with 69 points (59 goals and 10 assists) and also served as the team’s most consistent offensive force.

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She scored between two and four goals in every game, including four goals and an assist in a postseason victory over John Carroll to open the IAAM A Conference tournament.

“Kate’s speed, dodging and finishing ability set her apart from other players,” Glenelg Country coach Paige Walton said. “She is an extremely coachable player who strives for greatness every time she steps on the field.”

Sites’ quickness also helped her on the draw circle, securing 34 draw controls on the season.

Final standings from the 2019 Howard County girls lacrosse season.
Final standings from the 2019 Howard County girls lacrosse season. (Chart)
MIDFIELD

Shay Ahearn, Glenelg Country, senior. Ahearn, who has signed to play at the University of Maryland, is a first-team midfielder for the third straight season. Competing against top competition, both locally in the IAAM A Conference and on a national level, Ahearn finished the season with 68 points (52 goals and 16 assists).

She scored at least once in every game, including a season-high six goals in a win over Maryvale Prep. A four-goal and four-assist performance in a narrow win over St. Mary’s also ranked high among her best performances this spring.

Ahearn also led the way for Glenelg Country with 70 draw controls.

“Shay is an excellent two-way player who excels at both ends of the field,” Glenelg Country coach Paige Walton said. “Her speed, strength and knowledge of the game set her apart.”

Eloise Clevenger, Marriotts Ridge, junior. A repeat first-team All-County selection, Clevenger hit the ground running this spring with a game-high seven goals in a season-opening victory over Howard. She scored five or more goals in four games, including accounting for half of the Mustangs’ scoring in a 10-8 regular-season victory over Glenelg.

The University of Maryland commit finished with 61 points (47 goals and 14 assists), which were third most for a Marriotts Ridge team that averaged a county-best 15.9 goals per game this year.

“Her lacrosse IQ is extremely high, especially on the offensive end. Her ability to lose the defender and slip in toward goal is unique,” Marriotts Ridge coach Amanda Brady said. “She’s a great dodger and a has a lot of different moves that allow her to put herself in front of the goal in position to take advantage of her amazing shot.”

Erin Devine, River Hill, freshman. One of several talented freshmen that made immediate impacts for a Hawks’ team that ranked fourth in the county in goals per game (12.1), Devine opened the year with four goals and an assist in a victory over Long Reach. By season’s end, she was the team’s scoring leader with 49 points from her midfield position.

She had several big performances, including a four-goal and three-assist effort in a win over Reservoir and a team-high five goals in an opening-round playoff victory over Oakland Mills. River Hill coach Amy Weinberg said Devine showcased toughness and communication skills well beyond her years.

“She takes leadership on the field and her teammates show appreciation toward that,” Weinberg said. “As a player, her field sense is hard to beat. She is constantly working hard throughout the whole game, she sees the field well and she moves the ball quickly. [Already] she is one of the best players I have ever coached.”

Ella Farris, Atholton, senior. A four-year varsity starter for the Raiders, Farris enjoyed a breakout offensive campaign this spring while helping her team finish with an above .500 overall record (9-8). She ended up as the county’s third-leading scorer with 70 points (55 goals and 15 assists), nearly doubling her 36 points as a junior.

The University of Delaware signee had several huge games, including seven goals and an assist in a win over the Institute of Notre Dame. She also had six-goal efforts in victories over Hammond during the regular season and Reservoir in the playoffs.

Farris also contributed consistently in other areas of the field, scooping up 35 ground balls and causing a team-high 10 turnovers.

“Ella is a positive player who understands the overall concept of team and can play anywhere on the field,” Atholton coach Laura Foerster Puglisi said. “She was a role model to our younger players.”

Jenny Giampalmo, Glenelg, senior. A starting midfielder since she was a freshman, Giampalmo served as a leader in the middle of the field in all aspects this spring while excelling on the draw and in transitioning the Gladiators from defense to offense.

“Her off-ball sense and ability to create things as a player are outstanding. She is terrific at winning a ball on defense and then single-handedly starting the offense,” Glenelg coach Nikki Trunzo said. “Her positive and calm demeanor also was huge in terms of bringing along our newer members of the team.”

Giampalmo, who is a repeat first-team selection and will play at Yale University next year, finished with 23 goals and four assists for a Glenelg team that won its fourth straight region championship.

Marissa Lagera, Centennial, senior. While Lagera’s offensive numbers were a little down from her sophomore and junior campaigns, her impact on the field for the Eagles was as strong as ever. A four-year starter and repeat first-team All-County selection, she was the playmaker and orchestrator of the Centennial offense while also contributing defensively from her midfield position.

“When she handles the ball it looks like magic, just flawless ball handling,” Centennial coach Bethany Cunha said. “She can perfectly time cuts for feeders, can ride a defender out of the eight effectively and purposefully … and in a tight situation at the end of the game, she is the one you want with the ball.”

She finished this season with 31 goals and nine assists, pushing her career point total to 160. Lagera, who has signed to play at Monmouth University, also secured 143 draw controls during her high school career.

Emily Nalls, Glenelg, senior. A Player of the Year finalist for the region-champion Gladiators, Nalls was asked to transition from defense to the midfield for her final high school season. With improved stick skills, elite speed and attention to detail, the University of North Carolina signee literally did a little bit of everything this spring.

“We lost so many numbers offensively that we had no choice but to move her forward and that’s the thing about Emily, she’s so intense and has such a killer instinct that we knew she was going to be a force wherever we put her,” Glenelg coach Nikki Trunzo said. “Her ability to seamlessly transition into being a go-to-offensive player for us was probably one of the biggest keys to us being able to stay successful.”

After registering just 14 points as a junior, Nalls exploded for 73 (60 goals and 13 assists) this year to rank second among county players. She had two or more goals in every game, including season highs of seven to go with four assists in a win over Centennial.

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Nalls also was instrumental to Glenelg’s success on the draw control, winning the decisive draw in the team’s 2A South region semifinal victory over county-champion Marriotts Ridge. She also led the way with three goals and three assists in that win over the Mustangs.

Michelle Pak, Mt. Hebron, sophomore. Pak transitioned to the midfield from attack and had a breakthrough campaign as a second-year varsity player.

“She worked incredibly hard on her fitness to become one of our top two-way players on both ends of the field,” Mt. Hebron coach Lindsay Menton said. “What makes her unique is she has this natural fire and unmatched desire and aggression. Her scrappiness helped her make a huge difference for us in the transition game, winning the ball and getting it back down to the offensive end.”

She finished the season with 47 draw controls, 22 ground balls and four caused turnovers. And, even with the additional responsibilities in other areas of the field, Pak still upped her goal total from 22 as a freshman to 30 this year – finishing with 32 total points. In a playoff win over Atholton, she registered a season-high five goals.

Kelly Schluederberg, Howard, junior. As a second-team All-County selection last spring, Schluederberg established herself as one of the area’s leaders in scoring, ground balls and draw controls. This season, she maintained that versatility, while also taking the jump to become one of the leaders in terms of assists as well. She registered 21 assists to go along with a team-high 37 goals — ranking among the top 10 in the county with 58 points.

“As a whole, we challenged the entire team this season to not try and do everything on their own, and Kelly really embraced that. Her ability keep her head up and find her teammates was tremendous,” Howard coach Katelyn Joyce said.

Schluederberg had several big games in victories, including four goals and five assists in a win over River Hill and four goals and three assists in a win over Centennial. The junior, who is committed to play for the University of Florida, also had five-goal games in victories over Atholton and Catonsville.

Rasa Welsh, Centennial, junior. An injury cost Welsh her entire junior season, but the Eagles’ star in the middle of the field returned this spring and didn’t miss a beat. She registered five or more points in three of the team’s first four games and ended up finishing the season with 49 (33 goals and 16 assists).

Her best offensive game came in an overtime regular-season victory over Mt. Hebron, as she scored six goals and added two assists. But just as important as the offensive production was her dominance in the draw circle with 55 draw controls.

“When tuned in, she is truly unstoppable and moves with power, force and finesse. She uses her physical style and incredible athleticism to make her mark on all ends of the field,” Centennial coach Bethany Cunha said. “She was a game-changer in many close games this season.”

DEFENSE

Courtney Baehr, Glenelg, senior. A four-year starter for the Gladiators who has signed to continue her lacrosse career next year at Davidson College, Baehr was one of the anchors in the back for the county’s stingiest defense.

Glenelg averaged just 5.3 goals against this spring and allowed just one opponent to reach double digits.

Baehr was a second-team All-County selection a year ago and was even better this spring. She helped lead the way in forced turnovers this season and locked down some of the opposition’s top weapons.

“Her anticipation and ability to read the opposing offense is terrific. And her reach is extremely long, helping her excel at knocking down and intercepting passes,” Glenelg coach Nikki Trunzo said.

Katie Sloan, Howard, junior. As one of the leaders of the Lions’ “core four” in the back, Sloan’s offseason work helped her become among the team’s most improved players this season, according to coach Katelyn Joyce.

She ended up leading Howard’s defense with 26 forced turnovers.

“We had great chemistry defensively, and I think the support they had for one another really helped Katie take advantage of her ability to cause turnovers,” Joyce said. “She had the slides backing her up and her defensive core supporting her. And because of her improvement in terms of one-on-one defense, it led to a breakout year.”

Among Sloan’s best games was a three-strip and four-caused turnover performance in a regular-season win over Mt. Hebron.

GOALIE

Kyleigh Eaton, Atholton, sophomore. The Raiders’ goalie ended the season as the county’s leader in terms of save percentage, stopping 53.3 percent of the shots she faced. She finished with 140 saves, including six contests with double-digit stops.

Among her top efforts included 13 saves apiece in victories over River Hill and St. Vincent Pallotti during the regular season. She was someone the rest of the team looked to for leadership despite only being a sophomore.

“Kyleigh really cares about her fellow teammates, inspiring them at halftime or at the end of a tough loss,” Atholton coach Laura Foerster Puglisi said. “She is a leader on and off the field.”

Second team:

Attack: Alli Bateman, Glenelg Country, senior; Sarah Cipolla, Glenelg, senior; Erin Cooke, Marriotts Ridge, senior; Louisa Lagera, Centennial, sophomore; Claire Slade, River Hill, freshman; Ashley Unkenholz, Mt. Hebron, sophomore.

Midfield: Lia Carlesi, Wilde Lake, sophomore; Mallory Jubb, Glenelg, senior; Leah McClelland, Long Reach, junior; Sarah Nam, Reservoir, junior; Jenna Peed, Howard, junior; Lexi Thielemann, River Hill, senior.

Defense: Ashley Fisher, Marriotts Ridge, senior; Molly Flynn, Atholton, sophomore; Ashley O’Byrne, Glenelg, junior; Addie Schmidt, Glenelg Country, senior; Kennedy Williamson, Glenelg Country, junior.

Goalie: Olivia Ranta, Marriotts Ridge, senior.

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