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Howard County girls soccer teams aiming for further success in 2016

Every so often Reservoir coach Phil Ranker shows his girls the MPSSAA ball that was given to them last season as a consolation prize for making it to the 3A state semifinal game.

"I show them this from time to time to show them that we were close, but didn't get the championship — not that they need me to remind them," Ranker said.

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Heading into 2016, the Gators aren't looking for another soccer ball. They're aiming for a bigger prize.

"Going into this season we should be one of the better teams in the county with the run that we put together last year," Ranker added. "We haven't set our team goals yet, but I'd be shocked if the first words out of their mouth wasn't 'state title, county title.' I think any time you get to the state semifinals and you fall a little short you get hungry."

After claiming its first region title since 2011, Reservoir had an abrupt end to its season last fall after succumbing to eventual 3A state champions, Bel Air, 2-0.


Despite graduating some key seniors from last year's team, the Gators bring back plenty of experience as seniors Kylie Toler, Cassidy Pham, Leah Simmons and Shelly Ignacio lead the way, along with first-team all-county goalkeeper Janie Romer returning for her junior season.

Wilde Lake — the defending county and 2A North region champions — also had a bitter end to their 2015 season. A questionable call on a foul in the box resulted in a penalty kick that was ultimately the determining factor in a 1-0 loss in the 2A state title game against Fallston. With the defeat still lingering, the Wildecats are determined to prove their status again this season, as first-year coach Megan Shea takes over the program from Davia Williams.

Last year's senior class was highlighted by Howard County Player of the Year Rachel Lazris and fellow all-state player Brynn Drury, along with all-county players Anna Hudec and Kristen Edwards. But Wilde Lake does return great young talent in Jenna Hutchison (sophomore, goalie) — who earned all-county honors last season — and Lily Dunbar (sophomore, midfield).

Along with Hutchison and Dunbar, the Wildecats are led by seniors Sahar Zoghi, Annie DiBattista and Sydney McNamara. Freshman Angie Geralis will also shoulder some heavy minutes in the midfield.

"I feel like we do [have something to prove]," said Zoghi. "Just since we had such a great season last year. I feel like we need to show it again that it wasn't just a one year thing and prove to everyone that we're still great and we can still meet the expectations that we did last year."

Howard was in the mix for a county championship toward the end of last season, starting out the year with an impressive 10-2 mark and winning 10 in a row, but fizzled down the stretch. The team ultimately finished 11-4 overall after getting upset in the first round of the 4A playoffs by Catonsville.

Like the Wildecats, the Lions lost numerous all-county players such as Sarah Cocozza and Katie Schluederberg, along with second-team all-state forward Grace Regal, but they reload with some great talent all over the field. Howard is led by senior captains Tessa Walsh and Haley Kappey in the midfield and Krista Whelan and Logan Filler on defense.

"I think we look balanced this year," said Howard coach Bali Boule. "It's hard to tell where our strength will be at this point because I see the potential everywhere. Very versatile players this year who will play where they are needed based off the opponent."

Transfer Mia Harman will replace Regal up top and the junior is expected to step in and become an automatic difference maker. Boule said she was "excited" to have Harman on the team, as she is a "smart, confident and an extremely hard worker."

"I don't think there's a single team in Howard County who should be underestimated," Boule added. "Every single game will be a battle for us. We respect all teams. We look forward to playing everyone, but definitely Atholton, Wilde Lake, River Hill, the ones we've battled for [the county championship] with the last couple of years."

Despite graduating second-team all-state midfielder Emma Johnson and second-team all-county players Jaylyn Chandler and Jetta Owens, Atholton comes in with a boatload of talent. This year's group is highlighted by all-county performers Victoria Huxtable (junior, midfield), Ashley Ensor (senior, defense) and Sofia Harrison (senior, defense). An early playoff exit cut their 2015 season short, but the Raiders are eager to get back on the field and work toward a longer postseason run.

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According to Atholton coach Stephanie Stoutenborough, the biggest keys to her team's success this season are, "playing with confidence and consistency."

"We have to set the pace for every game from start to finish and we have to go into every game knowing that we can win," she added. "We are going into every game the same way, not taking any team for granted."

Long Reach's playoff victory over Atholton highlighted its 2015 season and despite a 3-6-2 county record, they ended with strong play on the field in the final few weeks. Although losing all-state defender Rachel Kim to graduation is a blow, the Lightning return their main core from last season and are looking to surprise teams in coach Sam Haddad's second year.

"We've set up our goals and we really want to go further. We want to come out of the county and 3A and go to regionals and beyond," Haddad said. "We have high goals and everyone has a buy-in from the girls starting with our captain Cam (Anderson) who gathered everybody together and said, 'It's us now.' We got the attention last year, people started paying attention to Long Reach. Well, this year we will have to prove it."

Like Atholton, River Hill also had an early playoff exit last year, getting upset by Marriotts Ridge — which is now under new head coach Karyn Peksa, an assistant to incumbent Robin Grey last season. The Hawks on paper look young, as all three captains are juniors (Megan Chun, Vic Tran and Carly Wetzel), however, all three have ample experience. They were key performers last season and as freshmen when River Hill won a 3A state championship.

"The thing that worked well this summer, from my understanding, is my three captains — Megan, Vic and Carly — literally after the July Fourth weekend they put more commitment into it… I think they really pushed the kids and everybody onto the same page," said Hawks coach Brian Song. "Even though they are juniors, people look up to them. A lot of people lean on them for advice or any suggestions. All three of them I think will end up playing Division I somewhere. They are my three best players hands down, other than Brigette (Wang). The four of them (are) going to be carrying this team."

River Hill's goalie situation is up in the air. As Song put it, it will be "goalie by committee" depending on who is hot at the time. But for Song, the most important key this season is getting his team to peak at the right time.

"I told the girls already, we're going to get some bumps," he explained. "I said, 'Don't get down. The season doesn't start for us until the second week of October,' that's when you want to start peaking. The last three games of the season, that's when you want to rise. If you rise the first two weeks of September and start going downward, it doesn't mean anything.

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"I just said every baby step you take, don't take a step backward, and on the way there we're going to get hiccups. Howard County soccer is pretty competitive other than a couple bottom level teams. If you don't bring your A-game every game, you will get one of those bumps and all of a sudden, you say, 'Oops' we're down 1-0 and we lost. I think physically we're there, but I think since we are so young that mental portion — what happens when we're down 1-0, or winning 1-0 and then we go down? How do they adjust to that game situation? I'm really excited to see how they learn from that and how they react to it once the game gets in that situation."

The Mustangs season was highlighted by pulling off that upset over defending state-champion River Hill in the first round of the 2A playoffs last year. Even though they too lost some big contributors from last season — including all-state defender Sam Price — they return junior Emma Meininger in net and senior Cassie Evans in the midfield; two huge pieces of Marriotts Ridge's successful 2015 season.

"We're taking it one game at a time," Peksa said. "We don't want to look too far ahead. We're going to focus on the next game and we'll see how that goes. We have very athletic girls. Our success will depend on how we develop as a team."

Private Schools
Howard County rivals Glenelg Country School and Chapelgate fought for a IAAM C championship last season, with the Dragons coming away with a 2-1 victory for their second-consecutive C crown and undefeated season. After winning 29-straight in the C conference, Glenelg Country School makes the move to the B conference in 2016. The Dragons return 10 starters — including seven sophomores who started in their first year under coach Christy Cole — but the biggest question mark heading into the year is how they will adjust to the level of competition after seeing such dominance the past two seasons.

"Adjusting appropriately to the move to the B conference [and] rising to the occasion of stronger, consistent competition," Cole said will be her team's biggest determinant of success this season. "We haven't lost in 29 games, so many of these players will have to adjust to being behind during a game and/or digging deep for that competitive edge against stronger, more physical teams."

As for the Yellowjackets, they stay in the C conference and are looking forward to a successful year and possibly another shot at a conference title. However, a huge blow came this offseason as star striker Jasa Curry (31 goals, eight assists) transferred to Seton High School for her junior campaign. Returning starters Jenna Winand (senior, midfield), Megan Donnelly (senior, midfield) and Mya Boyd (senior, midfield) will lead the way for Chapelgate this season.

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