River Hill boys soccer coach Matt Shagogue recalls one of his first conversations with then-newcomer Justin Harris. The midfielder skipped his freshman high school season to play for his academy team but decided before his sophomore year that the time was right to represent his school and start a new challenge.
Shagogue saw a then-15-year-old sophomore who was undersized — Harris claims he was 5-foot-7 and weighed about 115 pounds — but was also technically gifted with both feet, had an impressive attacking presence and an innate sense for the game that he had only seen a handful of times coaching the Hawks.
Some of those other players, like Jake Pace and Mike Heitzmann, were once Howard County Times Player of the Year and earlier this month were part of the University of Maryland’s national championship team as an assistant coach and midfielder, respectively.
“I could see he had it in him but I knew he would have to be pushed and given some confidence and the ability to go out there and play through mistakes and all that stuff,” Shagogue said. “It was a conversation I had a lot with him when he was starting as a sophomore, that the potential I saw in him. I thought he could be the best player in the league and I’d share that with him. It’s something I’ve seen in him for a number of years.
Harris admits he may have been in over his head during his sophomore season. He wasn’t prepared for the amount of conditioning the team did at practice and playing against athletes two years older than him, but he still contributed on one of the best teams in the county.
“I was really, really small. I didn’t know the deal about high school,” Harris said. “But Shagogue said I had the potential to do well in this county and do well in Maryland, and then we started talking about working out and getting my body to where it needed to be for high school because it’s really physical. It’s really different from academy and club, so we talked about that a lot.”
Overall, it was an eye-opening experience, but it was also the start of a process that eventually put Harris above the rest as this year’s Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys soccer Player of the Year, the Maryland Association of Coaches of Soccer Player of the Year and an All-American.
Harris started working out, sometimes as often as three times a day, and with the help of a personal trainer and his parents, who both have experience as personal trainers, he put in the work to become the player Shagogue envisioned he could be.
What set Harris apart, Shagogue said, was his work ethic. There are athletes who work hard in front of coaches and teammates; there are some who work hard when asked to work hard; and then there’s the smaller group of athletes who work hard when nobody is watching. Shagogue put Harris firmly in the latter category, and as a result Harris got bigger, stronger and more fit.
“My dad is a big fan of Michael Jordan,” said Harris, who perhaps unsurprisingly wore the No. 23 this season. “He always talked to me about that, so that mindset comes into play. I’m a really competitive person so I always like to try to be ahead of everyone, so I think of it as I’m working and they’re not.”
Shagogue said Harris simply has an inner drive that is fueled by his love for the game. He said Harris was “easily” one of the most-fit and focused players on the team.
“Justin is a competitor. He’s a tough kid,” he added. “He just loves the game, wants to play and is not into all the nonsense of high school and is just focused on playing the game.”
As a junior, Harris had seven goals and six assists and finished the season just outside the top 10 in the county in points. He commanded the midfield for a River Hill team that won county and regional titles and reached the state championship game.
But from the very start of this season, it was clear Harris had taken the next step in his development.
In 11 county games, Harris had nine goals and eight assists, and in 18 games overall, he had a goal or assist in all but three. He had a 10-game stretch where he scored at least once in nine games and totaled 10 goals and four assists. Included in that span was a Sept. 20 game versus Mt. Hebron, during which River Hill found itself trailing in a game for the first time.
Harris, though, came to the rescue and scored a pair of goals in the 50th and 60th minute to lift the Hawks to a 2-1 win.
“That was kind of a game where I saw that I could really be the county player of the year, I could try to do a lot more than what I had been doing,” Harris said.
And once his teammates got more involved in the scoring output later in the season, Harris often was the one setting them up. He assisted on all three goals in a 3-1 win against Reservoir in their final regular season game and then had two more helpers in their first playoff win against Marriotts Ridge.
After a scoreless first half against Oakland Mills in the 2A South regional semifinals, Harris put the Hawks in front with a perfectly-placed free kick from just outside the box. Earlier that week, Shagogue took Harris off the ball for corners and restarts outside of direct scoring range because he earned the coaches’ trust and could be relied on to score with his head. Fittingly, Harris rewarded his coach and skied over a Scorpions defender and whipped a header into the net to double their lead in an eventual 4-0 victory.
“Sophomore or junior year, I would not head the ball,” said Harris, who is now 5-foot-11 and weighs 155 pounds. “Kids were bigger than me and I might have tried once or twice and got knocked down and stopped doing it, but I got bigger and was able to be more confident going up for the ball. That’s definitely something I improved on by my senior year.”
But Harris wasn’t just an offensive threat, though he tied for the league-lead in assists (10) and was second in goals (14) and points (38). He’s a natural defender who worked his way further up the field over time. He was on the field when the Hawks needed to protect a one-goal lead.
The River Hill Hawks varsity boys soccer team lost to the Oakdale Bears, 2-1, in the MPSSAA Class 2A state championship game at Loyola University's Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday, November 17, 2018.
River Hill repeated as county and 2A South regional champions and entered the state championship game with an undefeated mark of 16-0-1. But for the second straight year, the Hawks lost their final game, this time losing to Oakdale in penalty kicks.
“We were really motivated from the start and the whole season we weren’t giving up a lot of goals and were scoring a lot of goals, our chemistry was great and we felt like we would win it this time,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, the last game, it just didn’t happen, but we felt like this season was still a great season and we accomplished a lot as a team.”
Since his sophomore campaign, Harris’ stock has been on a meteoric rise. Shagogue said the best is yet to come and that Harris is “still ascending as a player.” He developed so rapidly that the University of Maryland, which won the NCAA championship with a 1-0 victory against Akron on Dec. 9, started calling, and on Dec. 19, the River Hill-to-Maryland pipeline continued when Harris officially committed to the Terps.
“I’ve always envisioned going to Maryland and playing there, so it’s always been an aspiration,” Harris said. “Shagogue and I, we always talked about it, like he saw my potential and he said he believed I could do this if I work hard. So that’s what I did and it paid off.”
Also named to the first-team All-County:
Darbouzeson Casseus, Oakland Mills, senior
Better known as “James,” Casseus was a thorn in the side of every team the Scorpions played against. Coaches around the league were forced to game plan for his long throw-ins, which he used to total 31 assists in his three-year varsity career. He finished this season with nine goals and five assists despite starting the season as Oakland Mills’ goalkeeper.
The three-time first-team All-County senior had game-winning goals against Centennial, Hammond, Glenelg and Long Reach in the regular season and against Wilde Lake in the playoffs.
“There wasn’t a team we’ve played the last three years that didn’t have to modify their game plan to deal with his dangerous throw-ins,” Scorpions coach Don Shea said.
Alex Krause, River Hill, junior
Krause dominated the league in his first high school season this fall. The junior who played for his academy team the last two years led the county in goals (15) and points (39) and had nine assists. The first-team All-State selection was a force up top for the Hawks, who led the league with 65 goals.
Krause scored a hat trick in the rain in a 3-0 win at Oakland Mills in the regular season and against Marriotts Ridge in the playoffs. He also had two goals against Bladensburg and Glenelg. Overall, he had a point in 13 of River Hill’s 18 games.
“He is a competitor,” Hawks coach Matt Shagogue said. “He wants to compete every time he takes the field, practice or game. He is a hard worker and eager to please.”
Alex Molina, Reservoir, senior
Molina set the tone for his season in the first game this fall against Blake when he scored a pair of goals in a 5-0 win and never looked back.
“We had talked about where he saw himself on the team and it was going to be on the wings or attacking back,” Gators coach David Obeng-Darko said. “However, due to some circumstances and injuries, I had a talk with him to step into the role as striker and lead a group of young athletes.”
Affectionately called “Einstein” by the coaching staff and teammates because of his opinion on everything, Molina led the Gators with nine goals.
“Alex was one of the unsung heroes on the team,” Obeng-Darko said. “... He never missed training and his effort to do all things the coaching staff asked of him was very commendable.”
Sahil Raina, Marriotts Ridge, senior
Raina, a three-year varsity player and two-year starter, played some of his best soccer at the end of the season, but his technical ability stood out every time he stepped on the field. He finished the season with nine goals and three assists, and he scored two goals against Glenelg, Atholton and Howard. He also had two goals in the Mustangs’ 2-1 playoff win against Hammond, including the game-winner.
“Sahil was a tireless worker. He had such a drive and passion for the game that was unmatched by anyone he shared the field with. He was fiercely competitive and set an example for everyone around him to match his level,” Marriotts Ridge coach Quinn Khouri said. “His individual skill and ability to beat defenders creatively is something that any player watching him can learn from. His combination of speed and skill is hard to find at this level.”
Vince Broccolino, Mt. Hebron, senior
Broccolino was a three-year varsity starter, two-year captain and was one of the best players in the county the last two years. The senior tallied 13 goals and 10 assists as a junior and then had 10 goals and six assists this season for the Vikings, who finished second in the county standings. He had a hat trick against Long Reach, scored a goal in his last five games and was a two-time All-State selection.
“He was a vocal leader, encouraging players in practice and at games,” Mt. Hebron coach Michael Linsenmeyer said. “Vince was very experienced as a soccer player and knowledgeable. His decision-making was a big reason for the success of our program the past couple of years.”
Hamzah Elhabashy, Centennial, senior
A first-team All-County selection for the second straight year, Elhabashy totaled eight goals and four assists this fall to lead the Eagles to the 3A East regional championship game. He was their vocal leader, coach Justin Thomas said, and was always pushing and motivating his teammates.
“Hamzah is a very talented player but he is also a team player that always puts the team first,” Thomas said. “He is also the kind of player that would come out and set the tone and make something happen in the big games. A true competitor, he wanted the best out of everyone around him but especially himself.”
Elhabashy, who had 11 goals and nine assists last year, scored six goals in the first seven games of the season and had two in a 3-0 win against Reservoir in the playoffs.
Ethan Shulgold, Wilde Lake, junior
Shulgold had a breakthrough season this fall for the Wildecats and was one of the biggest keys behind their jump in the county standings. He finished the season with 11 goals and four assists, and he had a hat trick against Dundalk and two goals versus Howard and Reservoir.
“When Ethan is on the field we have more scoring chances created by his intuition of the players around him and his vision of how the defense is playing against us,” Wildecats coach Trevor Shea said. “Ethan has a nose for the goal and found ways to finish in the final third throughout the season, which helped our team be successful. Ethan is a very emotional player that always puts his heart into the game.”
Sebastian Tobar, Mt. Hebron, senior
A three-year varsity starter, Tobar was easily one of the most consistent players in the county during his career. Vikings coach Michael Linsenmeyer called him one of the smartest players he’s ever coached and always had the ability to control a game in the midfield.
“Sebastian was a leader by example and would consistently make players on his team better,” Linsenmeyer said. “Sebastian was like a coach on the field with his ability to read the game so well. He was very positive with his fellow players and worked hard to make his teammates better.”
Tobar scored 12 goals and had two assists this fall, and against Hammond he scored the game’s first goal on a bicycle kick.
Jeff Bruner, Howard, junior
Bruner was the first player off the bench as a freshman and sophomore but carved out a big role for himself this fall. He never came off the field and pitched in offensively as well with three goals and an assist. One of his goals was a game-winner in a 2-1 victory against Reservoir.
“Jeff really helped solidify our back line,” Lions coach Nils Schroder said. “He gives 100 percent effort at all times, has a high motor, and is a big time competitor. ... I expect Jeff to lead a really strong junior and senior group in 2019. I expect a lot of offense if he plays in the midfield and I expect him to continue his shutdown defense if we leave him on the back line.”
Julian Elguera, River Hill, junior
A 6-foot-2 center back, Elguera impressed in his first year on varsity. The junior was a second-team All-State selection and led a defensive unit that conceded just eight goals in 18 games. He was also dangerous offensively on restarts — he scored four goals and assisted another — and defensively Hawks coach Matt Shagogue said “there is not a player in the league better in the air.”
“Julian is tough,” Shagogue added. “It seems like once a game he is diving, giving up his body to stop a shot. He is a team-first guy who wants to win above everything else. He is going to be very tough to compete against next year.”
Patrick Sherlock, River Hill, senior
Sherlock is a first-team All-County and All-State goalkeeper for the second straight year and conceded just seven goals in 18 games. He wasn’t tested often, as the Hawks allowed only eight goals this season, but when he was he almost always came through with a big save. The Johns Hopkins commit finished the season with 47 stops and 12 clean sheets.
“He is everything a coach can ask for in a player and leader. He’s a good communicator, shot blocker, and decision maker. He provided great comfort in the goal for the past three years,” Hawks coach Matt Shagogue said. “Patrick has made so many big saves for our team over the past three years. His legacy is a strong one.”