North Harford hopes 5-0 start no illusion


There's nothing unexpected about the North Harford girls soccer team's 5-0 start.

Actually, to coach Tom Berg and his three senior tri-captains, Melissa Anderson, Heather Martin and Jennifer Grubb, it is a repetition of what the Hawks did a year ago, when they started 5-0, before finishing 9-3.

This year the Hawks are doing it despite the loss of four players to graduation, all of whom were either first- or second-team All-County.

"Sometimes going undefeated gives you a false sense of confidence when you meet up with a team of your caliber, but it is a great feeling being undefeated and there is no reason why we shouldn't be," said Martin, who is playing a new position for the third straight year, this time at fullback.

Berg said, "All these girls know that just because you win early, doesn't mean you are going to win late."

The Hawks are playing at a higher level and taking everything in stride this season, with the biggest surprise being the impact the newcomers (two freshman and a junior) have had on the team.

Freshman Danielle Konshak is the Hawks' leading scorer with eight goals and four assists. Junior Shannon Harmon has added four goals and two assists.

And starting freshman sweeper Tara Schlerf has earned a lot of confidence among the coaching staff and has played more minutes than anyone.

Said Berg: "With two freshmen starting we had no idea that they would play this hard and adapt this quickly. These are the two best freshmen we've ever had. We've never had two freshmen this good, this early.

"Sweeper and center halfback [Konshak] are two of your more visible positions and there is a lot of pressure on them and we've tried to lessen that pressure, but they are already beginning to stand out."

The Hawks haven't had much trouble scoring, despite Anderson missing a lot of action due to an injury. But from this point on, Berg expects to have more balanced scoring, with Grubb and Anderson to step up and lead.

The perfect start has increased the determination -- especially among the seniors -- to get to the playoffs -- and this time advance past the first round.

The Hawks have reached the playoffs seven of the last eight seasons, yet it has been a while since they won in the opening round. The Hawks overall are 2-6 in the playoffs and they gave up two goals in the last four minutes in a loss to Overlea in the first round of the regionals a year ago.

"We want to win a playoff game and it may not seem like a big thing, but it is to us because we are in a tough region and we draw either Fallston or Loch Raven," said Berg.

"If you make the playoffs you have a chance to go to a state championship if you keep winning. And to me that's more important than a county championship because you practically have to go undefeated to win the title with only seven games."

Although the Hawks pack more scoring punch this year -- 22 goals thus far -- it is the defense that Berg relies on the most.

Of the three goals North Harford has given up, none have come against the starting team. Goalkeeper Erin Kroneberger, who only saw only 30 minutes of play last season, has done a fine job in recording 27 saves.

Backed by a defense that returns juniors Tina Kidd and Dawn Harrison and is bolstered by the addition of Martin, the Hawks believe they can beat anybody.

"And if we don't win, we are going to make it hard for the other team to," said Martin.

Anderson said, "I don't think it's that we're not taken seriously, but I do think our team is overlooked a lot of times."

Berg said, "We stress defense because if you play good defense you only have to score one goal to win. We can't say that there is anybody in the state that can just walk in and destroy us and I don't picture anyone winning by a big margin over us."

Even with the perfect start, Berg said the Hawks still need to improve on offense, where they are young.

He said his Hawks are still making mistakes they won't be able to get away with against the stronger teams on the schedule.

And the Hawks have not yet reached the stiffest part of their schedule, which includes games against Wright, Fallston and Bel Air.

"We still have C. Milton Wright and Fallston and we know they are going to be tough and we lost to them last year but it wasn't for the lack of trying," said Anderson.

Berg said, "Last year we lost games against Fallston and C. Milton Wright because of fear, but this year we are going to play hard and give them respect, but have no fear."

By the end of the year Berg would like to see his team ranked in the top 15 and he is optimistic that his team will win that first playoff game.

"If we are 9-3 this year, we can look at those losses and say they were all against tough teams," said Berg.

"You don't just emphasize winning, you also have to take care of the little things."

And with eight starters coming back next year and a junior varsity this year that might be as good as any at the school, Berg looks at a program that should only get better.

"Some feel our program is really starting to turn around and this group is taking us where we want to be," said Berg.

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