HOWARD COUNTY, MD — There are reminders of how the 2017 River Hill boys' soccer team's season ended everywhere the players go. Coach Matt Shagogue snapped pictures and recorded video of Eastern Tech celebrating it's 2-0 win over the Hawks in the 2A state championship game at Loyola University's Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Nov. 15, and he's since made sure the painful memories of that night have been engrained in each of his players' minds.
"I've asked them to use the pictures as a screen saver [on their phones and computer] as a reminder of the disappointment," Shagogue said. "Certainly it was a successful year, all but one game, but at the end of the day that's the one game you really, really wanted to get. So we talk about it quite a bit. I don't want to forget it and I don't want them to forget. When they're tired or whatever and they see it, it's a constant reminder as drive and motivation."
Just in case anyone forgot over summer break, Shagogue set the tone for the preseason and quietly set the expectations for 2018 by changing the scoreboard on the first day of tryouts. It read: HAWKS 0, EASTERN 2.
Last year may be in the past, but Shagogue believes remembering the disappointment will be motivation for this season's squad, which returns seven starters from last year's team that won the county with an 8-1-2 mark and finished 15-2-2 overall. River Hill expects to compete in that 2A state championship game again come November — only this time win it — but it first must get through the gauntlet that is the Howard County regular season that features a wide variety of styles and challenges.
"There is never going to be a game in Howard County where you think it's going to be 8-0 or 10-0 and you need to call off the dogs. It's never like that and it's good, it prepares teams for the playoffs. It's grueling," Shagogue said. "You play some vastly different styles, especially when you play an Oakland Mills or a Mt. Hebron, the big, physical teams and you play them on their smaller fields. It makes for a challenge."
Among the top returners for the Hawks are senior goalkeeper Patrick Sherlock —a first-team All-County selection last year who allowed just 14 goals in 19 games — senior forward Alex Smedley (nine goals, six assists in 2017) and senior midfielder Justin Harris (seven goals, six assists), both of whom were second-team All-County players a season ago. But River Hill has long been known as a team with a variety of goal scorers — Shagogue has never had a 20-goal scorer in his 12 years with the Hawks — and that likely won't change this fall.
"Having Patrick back there — this is his third year starting — he has strength and confidence and communication and he's a kid who is self-motivated and a two-year captain," Shagogue said. "Last year we had a freshman center-back (Jed Dixon) and a sophomore right-back (Cameron Clairmont), and both are back with a full year of experience but are also still young, so I am really excited about that."
The most intriguing player for River Hill might be newcomer Alex Krause. A junior, Krause played academy ball the last two years but will jump right into the starting lineup at forward. Shagogue said he has fit in well and is a "very, very good finisher" in the attacking third.
Mt. Hebron, which already owns a 1-0 win against Perry Hall on Aug. 31 and a 3-0 win over Patapsco a day later, finished second in the county a year ago with a 7-2-2 record and was 11-3-2 overall. The team returns six starters and will push for another league title.
The midfield tandem of Vince Broccolino (13 goals, 10 assists in 2017) and Sebastian Tobar is as good as any in the area and will help ease the Vikings into the season early on. Their defense, which allowed just 12 goals in 16 games last year, should remain one of the best in the league.
Coach Mike Linsenmeyer said he is still trying to find an identity for the team but believes "when it is all said and done, this team will be very similar, if not better than any of the teams over the past four or five years."
"We have players that practice hard and are committed to the program," he added. "We have a long way to go to be as good as some of those teams, but if the players commit to getting better every day, which I think they will, by the playoffs we will be a very good team."
Centennial, which defeated Marriotts Ridge, 2-1, in tournament action on Sept. 1 to kickoff the season, finished third in the league in 2017 for the third year in a row but has the talent to win the league in 2018 and repeat as 3A East regional champions. Coach Justin Thomas described his team as transitioning from gazelles to lions in 2017, and this season he said the lions are ready to hunt.
Senior midfielders Matt Merkey (four goals, four assists) and Zach Haskins (two goals, two assists) will need to take on more of the scoring load with the loss of Alex Keppler and his 18 goals, but the Eagles will mostly rely on senior forward Hamzah Elhabashy to provide that offense. He scored 11 goals and had nine assists last season, and Thomas believes he has the potential to be this year's Howard County Times Player of the Year.
Defensively, however, they allowed 29 goals in 17 games a year ago but will be counting on senior goalkeeper Jon Bossom, who excelled in the postseason and was arguably their best player en route to the regional title. Helping on the back end will be senior defender Richard Chung, a senior and former academy player who has "recommitted" to the team.
"Ideally we'd like to attack and score goals, which is an area we excelled in last year, but there will be an added emphasis on the defensive end where we can definitely improve," Thomas said. "Cohesion in the back should allow us to play and hopefully win games the right way with an attractive technical and attacking style.
"We have very high expectations, so the players will need to manage that. I think we need to work hard for each other and stay motivated. It will be very important for us to stay positive and resilient as the season wears on."
Few teams get excited to face Oakland Mills, which went 6-3-2 in the league and 10-4-2 overall last year and took River Hill to penalty kicks in the playoffs. Coach Don Shea started just one underclassman last year in the beginning of the season, but by the end he had six juniors in the starting lineup, meaning he has an experienced group taking the field in 2018.
Senior Darbouzeson Casseus, who has been key for the Scorpions in set pieces over the last two seasons, will start this campaign in goal. But Shea won't rule out Casseus taking some set pieces this season.
"He's a very, very good goalkeeper. He's an athletic goalkeeper," Shea said. "When he played goalie on JV, we used to have him come out of the goal and take long throw-ins. Whether we would do that on varsity, I do not know."
Shea added that he is confident in the group he has and their ability to finish on set pieces.
"We have a lot of kids who are good in the air in front of the goal," he said.
Marriotts Ridge, which finished just behind Oakland Mills in the county standings last year, has a team that "is built to go deep in the playoffs," coach Quinn Khouri said.
The Mustangs return seven starters and 14 players overall, including multiple four-year varsity starters, but it's the variety that has Khouri excited.
Senior Matt Voland, a second-team All-County defender last year, will anchor the defense while Sahil Raina (six goals, four assists) and Thomas Williamson (four goals) will be relied upon to provide offense.
Wilde Lake, Reservoir, Atholton, Hammond and Howard were teams picked by several coaches as dark horses this year.
The Wildecats return senior Kofi Bonsu (five goals, seven assists), who will need to fill the scoring void left by Greg Obeng, and have a slew of sophomores and juniors in the midfield. Freshman defender Phillip Washington could contribute right away on varsity. He made the 2003 Maryland State Olympic Development Program team.
Rudy Ventura (six goals, six assists) returns for the Gators, who have a new coach in David Obeng-Darko, and is poised for a breakout season after injuring his knee late last season. The Raiders also have a new coach, Zuri Barnes, and will be a more dangerous team later in the season as they learn a new system. They were the only county team to beat River Hill in 2017.
The Golden Bears should have one of the league's best offenses once again this year. Senior Brennan Reamer had 16 goals last year, the most among all county players who return. The Lions have one of the most talented scorers in the league, sophomore Robbie Ryerson, to pair with an experienced defense.
Long Reach and Glenelg finished at the bottom of the standings a year ago but are excited about the 2018 season. Senior goalkeeper Kevin Pina will be key for the Lightning, while the Gladiators hope to turnaround their 1-6 record last year in one-goal games.
In the private schools, Glenelg Country has its sights set on winning the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference this year. The Dragons went 13-3 a year ago and fell in the conference finals for the third straight year, but first-year coach Martin Stiteler has eight returning starters and a senior-laden team anxious to get over the hump.
Chapelgate, also in the MIAA C Conference, has eight returning starters as well but is young overall with 12 underclassmen.
Here's a snapshot look at the 14 local programs:
2017 record: 6-4-1 county, 6-6-1 overall
Coach: Zuri Barnes
Top players: Seniors Lucas Teshome (D), Samuel Johnson (F), Kyle Hess (GK) and Christian Riordan (D); juniors Brian Tarantino (M) and Kamau Richardson (M).
2017 record: 7-3-1, 11-5-1 (3A East region champion)
Coach: Justin Thomas
Top players: Seniors Matt Merkey (M), Zach Haskins (M), Jon Bossom (GK) and Hamzah Elhabashy (F).
2017 record: 1-10, 1-13-1
Coach: Joseph Osborne
Top players: Seniors Cole Iannarino (M) and Jake Kersh (M); junior Evan Mavronis (D); sophomore Matt Thurnes (GK).
2017 record: 5-4-2, 7-6-2
Coach: David Reamer
Top players: Seniors Emmanuel Pope (M/F), Brennan Reamer (M/F), Chase Pisone (M/D) and Mathias O'Neil (D); junior Kevin Hernandez (M).
2017 record: 4-6-1, 8-9-1
Coach: Nils Schroder
Top players: Seniors Tyler Prevost (D) and Michael Fields (D); juniors Chris Sharkey (D) and Colin Sutch (GK); sophomore Robbie Ryerson (M/F).
2017 record: 1-10, 1-14
Coach: Sylvanus Alves
Top players: Senior Kevin Pina (GK), Rivaldo Artega (M), Nicholas Benbow (M), Declan Donnelly (M) and Peter Oresanya (F).
2017 record: 6-4-1, 9-6-1
Coach: Quinn Khouri
Top players: Seniors Matt Voland (D), Thomas Williamson (M) and Sahil Raina (F); junior Mark Lee (D).
2017 record: 7-2-2, 11-3-2
Coach: Mike Linsenmeyer
Top players: Seniors Vince Broccolino (M), Sebastian Tobar (M), Luke Baldwin (M), Ethan Bishop (M) and Justin Kweon (D).
2017 record: 6-3-2, 10-4-2
Coach: Don Shea
Top players: Seniors Darbouzeson Casseus (GK), Thomas Kato (D), Amari Jangha (D), Zain Kazi (F), Sam Levitt (D), Dillon Bickhart (F) and Moulaye Heck (M).
2017 record: 3-6-2, 7-7-2
Coach: David Obeng-Darko
Top players: Seniors Daniel Aguilar (M), Josh Bradford (D), Rudy Ventura (F), Aaron Kaplan (M), Alex Molina (M) and Andre Jobst (GK); freshman Evan Spann (F).
2017 record: 8-1-2, 15-2-2 (2A South region champion, state finalist)
Coach: Matt Shagogue
Top players: Seniors Patrick Sherlock (GK), Alex Smedley (F) and Justin Harris (M); juniors Cameron Clairmont (D) and Alex Krause (F); sophomore Jed Dixon (D).
2017 record: 4-5-2, 7-7-2
Coach: Trevor Shea
Top players: Senior Kofi Bonsu (F); juniors Kyle Eylanbekov (M/F), Ethan Shulgold (M) and Thomas Brinkley (D); sophomores Liam Nesbitt (M) and Tyriq Umrani (M/D).
2017 record: 3-10 MIAA C, 3-11
Coach: Jason Bennett
Top players: Seniors Eric Yang (F/M), Mark Rolewicz (F/M) and Andrew Phillips (M/D).
2017 record: 12-1 MIAA C, 13-3 (MIAA C finalist)
Coach: Martin Stiteler
Top players: Seniors Tyler Russo (D) and Peter Karabatis (F); juniors Jacob Schiller (M) and Matt Palmisano (F).