River Hill senior Brigette Wang scores girls soccer Player of the Year

Brigette Wang could always score.

At River Hill, she tallied a team-high 20 points (eight goals, four assists) her freshman year and then notched eight, 20 and 16 goals for the Hawks the following three seasons. At the club level, she added an abundance of goals playing for Premier Soccer Club Strikers and more recently Bethesda Soccer Club. And wherever she decides to play collegiately, her knack for putting shots past opposing goalkeepers will follow.

But before this season, Wang was never River Hill’s bonafide star. She spent her first three seasons playing alongside future Division I midfielders Victoria Tran and Megan Chun, both of whom were three-time All-County honorees and two-year captains, along with defender and two-year captain Carly Wetzel. The quartet was at the forefront of the Hawks’ 2016 and 2017 state championships.

Their subsequent graduation left a leadership void Wang and fellow senior Danielle Poindexter were expected to fill. It was their team now, coach Brian Song told them, and their all-around contributions, from the offseason workouts to the regular season and into the state playoffs, would shape the Hawks’ 2018 campaign.

“It didn’t matter that we lost seven seniors,” Wang said. “We knew our goal was there, and Dani and I stepped up into it. We were ready for it.”

River Hill’s dominance warranted such claims. Following a season-opening loss to Leonardtown, River Hill reeled off 17 straight wins during a run that included its second-straight undefeated county campaign, a scoring differential of plus-38, and most importantly the program’s state-record 13th state title. As for Wang’s statistical contributions, she scored about 37 percent of the team’s goals and added five assists, accounting for nearly half of the Hawks’ offensive production.

Combining team success with individual excellence, it was a special year for Wang that seemed to demand more recognition than the All-County nods she earned the past two seasons. A more fitting label? Howard County Times/Columbia Flier girls soccer Player of the Year.

“Knowing what she had to go through and how she persevered and how she incredibly came out of her shell this year, it’s amazing,” Song said. “Even my two daughters, [assistant coaches Kellie and Amy Song,] said, ‘Hey Dad, if we had that Brigette her freshman year, that girl would have scored 70-something goals in her career.’ But she did her time, respected what others were doing and waited for her time to shine. I can’t say enough good things about her.”

With 52 career goals, Wang ranks third in River Hill girls soccer history behind Erica Suter (53 goals) and Sheridan Street (61 goals). And had Wang not missed two games this season because of college visits, Song believes she would have passed Suter for second. Wang also finished top 10 in program history with 20 career assists.

Wang first learned how to score around age 5 when her parents put her in the recreational soccer program, but it was far from the only activity she participated in growing up. She played the piano and violin through middle school. Around sixth grade, she began a track and field career that would take her all the way to the AAU Junior Olympics in Iowa in 2014. As a 13-year-old, she ran the 100- and 200-meter dash.

One of the first times Song saw Wang play was at the River Hill Boosters Soccer camp a few days before her freshman year. He initially heard more about her sprinting ability, but upon seeing her in those workouts was convinced she had a bright soccer future.

“She was beating the seniors at the time when she was in eighth grade,” Song said, “So I was like, ‘OK, we may have something special here.’”

After a freshman campaign in which she scored eight goals and finished with a team-high 20 points for River Hill, Wang switched from Premier Strikers in Baltimore to Bethesda Soccer Club in Gaithersburg. She’s strived to play at the highest level, and Bethesda SC gave her that opportunity.

“She has an acceleration and a speed that you just don’t see in a lot of people,” said Shannon Higgins-Cirovski, Bethesda SC’s director of coaching and player development.

Wang’s frenetic pace up top helped her score eight more times her sophomore campaign and tally seven assists for a total of 23 points, which was second on the team behind Chun and sixth-best among county players. The Hawks went on to win the first of three straight 2A state championships that year, while Wang was named a second-team All-County forward. On the surface, she was making the transition to high school soccer look simple.

However, not everything came as easy to Wang as scoring did. Shy by nature, Wang seldom talked her first two years, according to Song. She also struggled in response to criticism and pressure from those around her. And it did not help that, in her mind, high school soccer was much more physical than at the club level. Wang said she’s always been on the smaller side, so playing through contact was an adjustment.

“I think that also has to do with confidence,” Wang said of her initial obstacles. “Kind of knowing your role as a player and then knowing what you’re capable of. Being sure of myself. Just knowing that if I have a bad play or a bad game, then that doesn’t mean anything. I’m still the player that I know I am. I suppose also just knowing your purpose on the field. If you’re not playing well, nothing is stopping you from working hard.”

A rigorous work ethic eventually resolved these issues, as did learning from Tran, Chun and Wetzel throughout their careers. She played more technically thanks to Tran, improved her vision and field sense because of Chun and developed intensity and aggressiveness by way of Wetzel. Meanwhile, all three players displayed leadership qualities Wang would attempt to emulate when the time came.

In the mind of Song, Wang broke out in a big way during her junior season. Thanks to established relationships and finishes that wowed her coaches, Wang totaled the second-most goals (20) and points (44) in the county behind Wilde Lake’s Julianna Bonner, who went on to win Player of the Year. River Hill capped a 17-2 season with another state championship and Wang earned first-team All-County recognition.

“It doesn’t surprise me what she does because she just does it so naturally,” Song said. “It’s not like something you have to really coerce or force something out of her to get her to do stuff. A lot of things she does it and it’s like, ‘Damn, did you see that move she just put on that girl?’”

“And then after the game she’s smiling and laughing and we talk about it,” Song added. “We say, ‘Brigette, did you intend to do that play?’ And then she says yes and I really believe her.”

River Hill had the luxury of relying on Wang for one more season, but other questions remained during the following months and in preparation for the 2018 campaign. Yes, the Hawks returned much of their back line, but who would assume the starting midfield spots and help Wang up top? How would freshman Caroline Duffy fare in goal?

These queries took time for Song to figure out, and there were certainly some growing pains with a team that brought back just six seniors. But in just looking at the results, River Hill seemed to be operating as usual. The Hawks entered the playoffs with one loss, two goals allowed and 11 shutouts. Offensively, Wang paced the team with 12 conversions.

The postseason only further tested their resilience but Wang and the defending county and state champions were ready.

After escaping the opening round on a last-second strike from Madison Dzubak, River Hill allowed goals in three consecutive single-elimination showdowns but pulled through with 2-1 results each time. Wang scored both goals in an overtime thriller against Wilde Lake in the 2A South sectional final, created several scoring chances in the Hawks’ regional title win over Calvert and netted the first score in a state semifinal victory versus Hereford.

After two seasons of helping the Hawks finish on top, Wang had her team one win away from the ultimate prize.

Walkersville did its best to shutdown Wang in the 2A state championship on Nov. 16, and at least for the first half, the Lions perfectly executed their plan. But then it happened, just like it happened in 11 of the previous 17 matches and 51 times in her career. In the 51st minute of the Hawks’ 1-0 triumph, Wang perfectly positioned herself in a crowded box, framed her shot and did what she’s always done best.

“Winning a state championship is really awesome every time it happens, so three times now, and every time has been better than the last,” Wang said. “And I think this one this year in particular was really special as a captain leading the team to that and then scoring the goal.”

Also named to the first-team All-County:

FORWARDS

Julianna Bonner, Wilde Lake, senior

The reigning Player of the Year had another exemplary season up top for the Wildecats, who finished second in the county standings behind state champion River Hill.

Bonner’s confidence and explosiveness made her an “incredibly exciting player to watch,” according to coach Megan Shea. It’s also why Bonner led the county with nine assists, finished second with 14 goals and totaled the most points in the league along with Hawks forward Brigette Wang.

Next fall, Bonner will begin her collegiate career at Lehigh.

“Julianna has been one of the most dynamic players in the recent history of the Wilde Lake girls soccer program,” Shea said. “Julianna has the ability to change a game at any given moment. Having a player who is a force like Julianna gives the entire team confidence.”

Kat Parris, Reservoir, sophomore

Despite missing four games at the beginning of the year due to an injury, Parris used her speed, intelligence and physicality to finish as one of Reservoir’s top goal scorers.

Parris, who earned second-team honors as a freshman, scored seven goals for the Gators this fall and added five assists, giving her the second-most points (19) on the team and seventh-most in the league.

The biggest highlight from Parris’ sophomore campaign occurred during the Gators’ two-game stretch spanning Oct. 9 and Oct. 11. She began her offensive tear against Mt. Hebron, tallying four goals in a 5-2 win, and then scored twice in a 4-2 victory over Long Reach.

“Kat meant a great deal to our team this year with her hustle, on-the-ball skill and finishing ability,” Reservoir coach Phil Ranker said. “Having her on the field gave the rest of the team confidence that she will continually generate chances throughout the game and that we could score at any time.”

Karis Turner, Reservoir, freshman

Turner was the youngest of Reservoir’s three-headed monster attack — which also included first-team All-County selections Kat Parris and Blair Vant Hoff — but her inexperience at the high school level proved unimportant.

Turner established herself as one of the league’s best finishers this fall by scoring nine goals, seven of which came in the first five games.

“Karis is excellent at finding herself in the right place at the right time,” Reservoir coach Phil Ranker said. “She is a strong finisher around the net and has a cannon for a shot. She also is very fast and physical on the ball.”

MIDFIELDERS

Lily Dunbar, Wilde Lake, senior

Coach Megan Shea called Dunbar “the heartbeat” of this year’s team who made everyone around her better.

A two-time first-team All-County selection, Dunbar scored four goals and assisted on six of them, but her impact extended far beyond her offensive contributions. Her technical skills and field sense are unparalleled, Shea added, while her leadership style helped the Wildecats achieve back-to-back seasons of at least 12 victories. She’ll play collegiately at Drexel next season.

“Her technical skills and field sense are unparalleled,” Shea said. “Lily demands excellence from not only herself, but also all of her teammates. This high standard has helped to create an environment where everyone works hard to meet and exceed their potential.”

Erin Halper, Mt Hebron, senior

“Erin was hands down the best player on the team.”

High praise from coach Tim Deppen, but Halper’s contributions during the Vikings’ improbable postseason run seem to warrant his claim.

Halper, one of two senior captains, finished as the team’s points leader with 19 points (seven goals, five assists). And when she wasn’t creating or finishing scoring chances, she was shutting down opponents’ top offensive threats. In fact, once Deppen moved Halper from center midfield to what he refers to as a “second stopper,” the Vikings rattled off four straight wins to capture the program’s first region title since 2000 and third overall.

“She certainly was not the loudest player on the field but she went about playing soccer with poise, confidence, and determination,” Deppen said. “Her attitude and work ethic are second to none, and anyone who wants to be a successful soccer player, person and leader can learn from watching how Erin conducted herself while at Mt. Hebron.”

Catalina Lennon, Atholton, senior

A year after earning second-team All-County and helping Atholton win its first region title since 2004, Lennon headlined a young Raiders’ midfield this fall.

Coach Stephanie Stoutenborough lauded Lennon’s speed and technical skills, both of which helped Lennon finish the season with three goals and an assist. She constantly caught defenders’ attention, Stoutenborough added, but proved frustrating to mark.

“Cat is very aggressive going to goal but also sets up scoring opportunities for her teammates,” Stoutenborough said. “We will miss Cat's competitive, never-give-up attitude, but also her offensive creativity and the way she attacks the goal.”

Blair Vant Hoff, Reservoir, senior

Vant Hoff served as the Gators’ main connection to the attack this fall, meaning she was responsible for sparking the offense and maintaining consistency in the final third while first-team All-County strikers Kat Parris and Karis Turner missed time with injuries.

Her ability to control the ball in tight spaces, find open teammates and precisely place her strikes resulted her totaling seven goals and as many assists. Vant Hoff will play at Salisbury next year.

“Blair, like the rest of the seniors who will be moving on from the program, leaves behind a strong legacy,” Ranker said. “She was a major contributor throughout her career and improved from year to year to become a high-level, All-State player. Her on-field contributions to the team will be very difficult to replace in the coming years.”

Aly Wagner, Marriotts Ridge, senior

It’s Wagner’s work ethic, determination and desire to compete that fueled her varsity success the past four seasons, coach Darius Qualls said.

A fourth-year starter and senior captain this fall, Wagner (nine goals, two assists) paced a Mustangs team that finished 10-5-1.

“[Aly’s] contribution as one of our top skilled midfielders stood out among team coaches, players and opponents,” Qualls said.

DEFENDERS

Emily Dorn, Reservoir, senior

A three-time first-team All-County honoree, Dorn constantly alleviated pressure from her teammates with her play in the defensive third. If someone made a mistake, Dorn flashed her speed, strength and field awareness to clear the ball out of danger.

Dorn played almost every minute as a central defender for the Gators for almost her entire career.

“She has led by example and shown the dedication it takes to play at a high level day in and day out,” coach Phil Ranker said. “Emily does not get a lot of stats due to the nature of her position, but she will be very difficult to replace in terms of on-field presence and off-field respect that she has from her teammates.”

Angie Geralis, Wilde Lake, junior

Geralis was the “keystone” for the Wildecats’ defense this season according to coach Megan Shea. Geralis is a steady defender, Shea added, who excels at winning 50/50 balls and created offensive chances off turnovers.

“Angie is an incredibly tough player to play against,” Shea said.

Carolina Pellegrini, Centennial, junior

Pellegrini spent 60 percent of her minutes as a center back but ended up playing wherever coach Steve Baxter needed her to.

In the final six games that meant playing up top, where Pellegrini (four goals, four assists) helped the Eagles create three times as many chances compared to their first six matches.

“Carolina is an all-around complete soccer player and great competitor,” Baxter said. “No better evidence of that than her balanced performance as center back and forward.”

Danielle Poindexter, River Hill, senior

Not many teams consistently challenged freshman goalkeeper Caroline Duffy this season, and Poindexter had a lot to do with that. Despite her quiet demeanor, she was a forceful defender who hardly ever got beat.

Poindexter also showed her scoring and distributing ability this season for the state champion Hawks. A striker on her club team, Poindexter netted three scores and tallied six helpers.

“They will be missed dearly, not just for their leadership or what they accomplished on the soccer field, but off the field as well,” Song said of Poindexter and fellow senior captain Brigette Wang. “I will miss them for who they are, and they brought smiles to practices and games no matter how difficult a day they had in the classroom.”

GOALKEEPER

Jenna Hutchison, Wilde Lake, senior

This marks the fourth consecutive year Hutchison earned All-County honors. This fall, Hutchison made 81 saves and allowed just seven goals, giving her a 92.0 percent save rate that ranked second among county goalkeepers.

Hutchison will attend George Mason next year to play soccer.

“Jenna is the definition of a fierce competitor,” coach Megan Shea said. “One of the hardest working players in the program, she is strong, confident, and completely controls the entire penalty area. In addition, she is good with her feet and is able to support the defense and help with clearances from the defensive end.”

Honorable mention All-County

Kerry Browne, Oakland Mills, senior, forward

Madison Greenberg, Oakland Mills, senior, midfielder

Mia Smiraglia, Reservoir, sophomore, midfielder

Payton Holmes, Long Reach, sophomore, defender

Layla Hamro, Hammond, sophomore, defender

Natalie Goodwin, Mt. Hebron, senior, defender

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