Evan Riss walked into Oakland Mills High School more than three years ago unsure if it was the place he belonged.
He was a talented lacrosse player, good enough to earn a partial scholarship to a top private school where he could've excelled and garnered more recognition on the field. He wanted to win a state championship or at least compete for a league title, not fight tooth and nail week in and week out only to battle for a .500 record.
But as he reflected on his four-year varsity career, Riss couldn't help but smile and remember there's no place like "hOMe."
"Everything felt like family. No one felt out of place and it seemed like I belonged here," said Riss, who was the only player to finish in the top four in the county in points, ground balls and caused turnovers this spring. "I know that if I ever had anything going on I could go to my father [Jim] here or other teachers, other coaches and other people in this school and they had my back. That's why we always say there's no place like 'hOMe.' Even though I didn't think I wanted to be a part of it — I wanted to win a state championship, but it would have been a lot better to do it in the orange and black."
Howard County Times sports reporter Tim Schwartz sits down with Oakland Mills senior defender Evan Riss to break down what to expect from the Scorpions and the rest of the Howard County boys lacrosse teams this season.
We talk about Evan's expectations for his team this season, his recruiting process and how he ended up choosing Ohio State among several Division-I schools, why he plays three sports and how each help him improve in certain areas on the lacrosse field, how he has helped build the program over the last three years, and comparing top public school players to top private school players.
We talk about which teams are expected to compete for the county county championship (Howard, Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge, River Hill), a team that might make a big leap this season (Centennial, Oakland Mills), who the top players in the county are (faceoff guys Felix Knorr and Derek Isaac, Marriotts Ridge's Lewy Anania and Ben Ellrich, Centennial's Mason Smith, Glenelg's Tyler Reiff and their attack and others) and overall how competitive the county will be this spring.
There's little doubt that Riss exits the Scorpion program as the best all-around player to ever don the black and orange after four years as a team captain who played multiple positions — often during the same game.
Playing his final three years at his natural position of long-stick midfielder, Riss' career totals are staggering: 132 goals and 107 assists, 545 ground balls with at least 100 in each year, and 156 caused turnovers, including 102 in his last two seasons. All the while, he was the player opposing teams game planned for.
Riss, who committed to play for NCAA tournament finalist Ohio State before his sophomore campaign, can now add Howard County Times' boys lacrosse Player of the Year to his resume. He's only the second Oakland Mills player to win the honor and first since Steve Phipps shared the award in 1989.
Riss' Scorpion teams went a combined 10-26 in county, 25-34 overall in the regular season and 1-4 in the postseason in four years. But helping push the program to new heights at a school that isn't known for its lacrosse, as well as carrying his brother Jimmy's legacy and playing for his father and assistant coach Jim, has been a pleasant consolation prize that Riss wouldn't trade for anything.
"People say, 'Why didn't you go somewhere else where you could have won a state championship?' ... I wanted to keep Oakland Mills in the family," he said. "If I went to another school it would break that Scorpion tradition and I think it was pretty cool to lead a team for four years and see us get better every year. It was really awesome, especially this year, to see the guys invest into everything going on, and I hope me and my brother, the legacy we left will carry on."
Riss was also a first-team all-county safety on the gridiron this fall and he was a part of the Oakland Mills basketball team that won a county championship two years ago. But his impact to the lacrosse program was unlike most players on most teams, and it carried more weight off the field than on it, according to Oakland Mills athletic and activities manager Troy Stevenson.
"Evan brought an element of importance to the sport at our school. He got other kids to do more than just come out for the team," he said. "Most of our kids are crossover athletes and he got them to work in the offseason and do things they wouldn't normally do, like go out on the turf once the snow melted and do drills. In general, he made the sport important."
Said Oakland Mills coach Skip Darden: "Evan pushed his teammates. Being quite frank about it, a lot of our guys had some catching up to do with other players in the county. Some kids pick up the game late but Evan had a way of encouraging guys, challenging them and really bringing out the best in them. We had some contentious practices but that's what competition is all about."
It wasn't always easy for Riss. He came in as a freshman and was immediately named a team captain on varsity, a role he admits he wasn't ready for. The losses mounted and he was playing out of position at offensive midfield.
His sophomore season wasn't much better in terms of wins and losses, but the experiences helped Riss learn how to become a leader and how to truly impact a program ready for change.
"I think the first two years helped me grow. When things don't go as well as you want them to, it really tests your resilience and tests who you are as a person," Riss said. "My football coach [Tom] Browne tells us you're not tough based on what you do when things are going right; it's about doing something you don't want to do, like play on a team that's losing more games than winning. That made me a tougher player so by my junior and senior years I could lead this team and be confident with them."
Riss was essentially a do-it-all coach on the field his final two years. He spent little to no time on the sideline during games, often switching out his long pole for a short one during games to play offense. At times, he never needed to switch sticks to score goals, instead carrying the ball from end to end and beating goalies with his six-foot-long pole.
He had 37 goals and 43 assists as a junior and 38 goals and 41 assists this spring, both times finishing second in the county in points. Meanwhile, he scooped ground balls at the rate of an all-county face off man and caused turnovers with the frequency of an all-county defenseman, all the while shutting down opposing team's best player.
"I think he confused the heck out of goalies and defensive guys. A midfielder lines up on him and you've got a guy with a pole who can go left and right," said Darden. "He can pick a corner from either side of the top of the restraining box, and likewise with the short pole.
"Evan meant a lot to the program. I really trusted his knowledge of the game. You talk about quarterbacks in football being the field general or the point guard in basketball, Evan was that for us on both ends of the field. Defensively, he anchored us and when kids can't get instruction from the sideline he was there to make sure you were where you need to be. And on offense he was loose and would flow from where he needed to be."
Riss' statistical success also resulted in team success, as the Scorpions went 8-7 in 2016 and 9-6 this spring, which included a win over Reservoir in which Riss buried one of his three game-winning overtime goals. It was the first time Oakland Mills had knocked off a county team not named Hammond, Long Reach or Wilde Lake in at least a decade.
"It was the best record we've had in a while. We have a lot of guys who are invested in the program, not just guys who are playing one year and saying I'm done with this," Riss said. "Guys really want to get better and I think you saw that each year we went on. I keep saying the guys bought in. ... It was great to see that and see the guys learn the game and get better. That's how you get more wins and build a strong program."
Riss' play for his club team, the Baltimore Crabs, and during the Under Armour Underclass tournament, as well as for Oakland Mills, helped him be named the No. 80 overall recruit in the country by recruitingrundown.com in September.
But the Ohio State commit is excited to get his next chapter started and possibly help carry the Buckeyes back to the national championship game.
"It's going to be very different. I'm going to be playing with guys who are all at the top level of our game," said Riss. "But going to a national championship runner-up team, those guys are going to be hungry. I know they are and I'm excited to step in and learn from the upperclassmen and just try to compete for a spot on a team hungry to get back there and win that championship."
Also named to the all-county first team:
Mark Bruner, Howard, junior.
Bruner battled a knee injury late in the regular season and his presence was missed by the Lions. But when he was on the field, he was one of the best offensive players in the league.
Bruner scored 30 goals and assisted on 29, and he tallied four goals and four assists in Howard's 11-9 victory over River Hill. He was also named MVP of the Karl Wolfe Tournament with five goals and nine helpers in two wins.
"Mark was the catalyst to our offense. He was the guy who got us going," said Howard coach Jimmy Creighton. "His ability to dodge, score and feed makes him a difficult cover for any defender. He can create with the ball and move off the ball with the best of them."
Brendan McKenna, River Hill, junior.
The Jacksonville University commit had a big year as the focal point of the Hawks' offense with 35 goals and 16 assists in addition to 46 ground balls.
"When we needed a goal or someone to draw a slide, he was the guy who got the job done," said River Hill coach Keith Gonsouland.
McKenna, also a first-team all-county wide receiver on the gridiron in the fall, scored four goals against Fallston and three against Glenelg to keep the Hawks within striking distance. Gonsouland said his greatest asset is his ability to see the field and dodge.
"[Brendan] is extremely difficult to defend one-on-one," he said. "This makes his teammates better because he attracts so much attention."
Jake Polinsky, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
It wasn't clear who would carry the scoring load for the Mustangs after a lot of turnover on offense, but Polinsky took the role and ran with it. He scored 41 goals and assisted on 18 to lead Marriotts Ridge in points and become the program's first all-county attackman since Pat Serio in 2011.
"Jake was a legitimate threat to score every time he touched the ball, regardless of who was defending him," said Mustangs coach Tony Incontrera. "He has the unique ability to dodge and finish, dodge and feed, finish in tight, and finish in space with time and room. He utilized all of these skills this season."
Polinsky scored four goals in an overtime victory against River Hill to help the Mustangs win their first county title since 2009, and he also scored twice against Glenelg in the playoffs before tearing his ACL before halftime. He will play at Howard Community College next year.
Jeremy Wilson, Centennial, junior.
Wilson took his game to another level this spring. Now averaging 40 assists per season his first three years, he excelled at finishing on his own this spring with 40 goals and a county-best 83 points.
"Jeremy is an incredibly well-rounded player with strength, speed and skill, but his greatest attribute may be his intelligence," said Eagles coach Nick Kellinger. "He understands the game so well that he is able to direct the offense and put his teammates in the right spots. He can read the defense and instinctively knows to make the right play."
Wilson, who is attracting interest from top Division-I programs, is just a few points from breaking Evan Calvert's school records for points (205) and assists (122) in a career.
"He is calm under pressure and unflappable even in the biggest moments," Kellinger said. "He gives his teammates confidence. ... In his senior season I expect him to lead the county once again in goals and assists."
Lewy Anania, Marriotts Ridge, senior.
Anania consistently attracted the opposing team's top defensive player but still managed to score 33 goals and assist on nine more for the county champions. He registered a hat trick in the first quarter in an early-season victory against John Carroll and later scored five goals against Mt. Hebron.
"Even if he wasn't creating offense, the attention he garnered opened things up for the rest of our team," said Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera. "His greatest attribute was his scoring ability. Everyone knew what he wanted to do, but he still had the ability to make things happen for us."
Anania is one of a handful of players in program history to garner first-team all-county honors twice and he scored 12 goals in three playoff games this spring. He will play at Stevenson University.
Luke Ingersoll, Marriotts Ridge, junior.
One of the best two-way players in the county this spring, Ingersoll sent a message early on by kicking off the season with an eight-point performance against Centennial. The junior finished with 14 goals and 33 assists — the most for any Mustang since Kyle Williams in 2009 — and often marked the opposing team's top midfielders.
"Luke makes all of his teammates better," said Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera. "He is a great heads-up dodger who sees the field and recognizes a teammate's slightest opening, but also has the ability to finish given the opportunity.
"I expect Luke to again be a focal point of our offense next year and to improve on what he did this season. I also expect him to emerge as one of the best midfielders in the Baltimore area."
Tyler Reiff, Glenelg, sophomore.
Described as "old school" by his coach Josh Hatmaker, Reiff excelled in his first season with the Gladiators. More importantly, he saved some of his best play for last, as he scored some of his team's biggest goals en route to the state championship game.
"Tyler is a tough physical midfielder who can get it done on both sides of the ball. Tyler has the ability to dodge from any position on the field, from up top or if we invert him," Hatmaker said. "Tyler is an unbelievable finisher off ball and can finish in traffic. He has a motor and plays like a senior, but is only a sophomore."
Reiff finished with 34 goals and 17 assists and none were more important than the three goals he scored in the third quarter to break a 3-3 tie against Linganore in a 3A/2A state semifinal.
Garrett Snyder, Mt. Hebron, freshman.
Snyder is the first freshman to be selected to the all-county first-team since Glenelg's Mikey Wynne, a rising senior and three-year starter at Notre Dame, in 2012. After a slow start offensively, he finished with 29 goals and eight assists and picked up his play down the stretch to help the Vikings turn their season around.
"Garrett gave us an elite offensive threat at the midfield. He is a dynamic dodger who reads the defense and is able to make good decisions that lead to great scoring opportunities," said Mt. Hebron coach Mike McCarthy. "He is a two-way midfielder who plays great defense and is physical and tough on ground balls. ... Garrett is going to cause havoc for this league for the next three years."
Felix Knorr, Howard, junior.
A repeat first-team selection at face off, Knorr won 10 percent more of his draws this spring despite leading the league a year ago. The junior won a county-best 248 face offs and lost just 58 for an 81 percent clip and he also grabbed a league-best 191 ground balls. But his consistency was key. He won 16 of 21 draws in a regular-season matchup against undefeated state champion Severna Park and 15 of 17 against Patterson Mill in the finals of the Karl Wolfe Tournament.
"His technique and quick hands allowed him to win at such a high percentage all season. He was thrown every strategy you could think of to negate his play and he always had an answer," said Howard coach Jimmy Creighton. "He has a passion for facing off and works hard at it year round. It showed this past season."
Knorr will play at Towson University after his senior season.
Dayton Fisher, Howard, senior.
The Lions have had dominant defenders each year and Fisher played that role to perfection this spring. The senior consistently marked opposing team's top midfielders and played his best against some of the top teams. He scooped up 12 ground balls and caused multiple turnovers in his team's first game against Severna Park.
"Dayton was a force on defense all season. He has a great stick and the ability to take the ball away from the other team to push transition for our offense," said Howard coach Jimmy Creighton. "He leaves Howard as a guy who played his heart out every single game, was a high IQ guy and a guy who played at an elite level all senior year."
Fisher will play at Howard Community College next spring.
Mason Smith, Centennial, senior.
Smith was key to the Eagles' major turnaround this season, as he anchored a defense that allowed 4.5 goals per game during their 12-game winning streak and 5.5 overall on the year.
"Mason was our leader on defense. He shut down a number of the top midfielders in the county," said Centennial coach Nick Kellinger. "After a rocky start to the season, we challenged Mason and our best defenders. They responded by allowing only eight goals over 16 consecutive quarters."
According to Kellinger, Smith's greatest attribute was his leadership.
"He led by example and held his teammates accountable, inspiring them to play their very best," he said.
Smith will play at York College next year.
Connor Stanley, Glenelg, senior.
Stanley was a nuisance for opposing teams all spring, especially during the Gladiators' postseason run to the state championship game. He held Linganore's top offensive player Jordan Swoyer, who had 52 goals and 106 points, without a point in the state semifinal game.
"Smothering," Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker said describing Stanley's play. "His length and athleticism allowed him to put offensive players in uncomfortable positions. He is extremely aggressive in his approaches but has the ability to close out if the offensive player has a step."
Stanley was also key in helping the offense, as he often turned his caused turnovers into fast break opportunities.
"As the season went on we asked Connor to play more of his natural position on the wings and at long-stick midfielder, where he was able to help us start transition," Hatmaker said.
Brian Doughty, Glenelg, senior.
Doughty was another Gladiator who stepped up and played his best in key situations down the stretch. The vocal leader of the defense, Doughty finished with 172 saves and a save percentage of 62 — good for second-best in the league. He stopped 15 shots and held Northeast scoreless for more than 43 minutes in the 3A/2A South region championship game.
Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker calls Doughty one of the smartest goalies to ever play for the program.
"He has extremely quick hands and his positioning on shots is always spot on," he said. "One of the biggest attributes that he brought to our team is his leadership, he is what you want in a goalie — vocal, always on point, understands offenses and is able to position defensemen in the correct place — and his quick and accurate outs allowed us to get the ball up and out to start offense."
Colin Kelley, Marriotts Ridge, sophomore.
A second-team all-county selection as a freshman, Kelley continued his growth this season and helped the Mustangs win their first-ever outright county championship.
"Colin was the backbone of our defense," said Marriotts Ridge coach Tony Incontrera. "He allowed our team to press out and take chances because we knew that if there was to be a breakdown or if our defender was beat one-on-one, there was a great chance Colin would make the save."
Kelley made 19 stops in a 12-11 overtime win over John Carroll early this season, and against River Hill he made several point-blank saves in another overtime victory late in the year. Incontrera said Kelley's ability in goal gave the rest of his team confidence, and he expects him to be one of the top goalie recruits in the area.
Max Friedman, River Hill, sophomore, attack
Peter Geier, Marriotts Ridge, junior, attack
Tyler Nalls, Glenelg, junior, attack
Andrew Tiffey, Wilde Lake, junior, attack
Nathan Handwerk, Howard, senior, midfield
Ryan Hopkins, Glenelg, sophomore, midfield
Nick Pekins, Hammond, junior, midfield
Thomas Thurmond, Centennial, junior, midfield
Derek Isaac, River Hill, senior, face off
Jake Carson, Reservoir, senior, defense
Ben Ellrich, Marriotts Ridge, senior, defense
Jordan Nalls, Glenelg, junior, defense
Ben Stephanos, Howard, sophomore, defense
Edgar Batenga, Atholton, senior, goalie
Jack Schlossberg, Centennial, junior, goalie
Bob Scott Award:
Reed Kenny, Marriotts Ridge, senior
Michael Travisano, Howard, senior
Jake Carson, Reservoir, senior
Assistant Coach of the Year:
Jim Riss, Oakland Mills
Coach of the Year: