4 state champions facing a season of change

The Baltimore Sun

The Mount Hebron boys soccer team, last season's Class 3A state champion, has to replace a forward tandem that totaled 35 goals, a rock at midfield and a goalie who made 17 saves to help win the regional crown.

The Hammond boys and River Hill girls, both also state champions last season, lost centerpiece players in Mostafa Ebrahimnejad and Erika Theisen, respectively. And the fourth of the county's state title winners in soccer, the Glenelg girls, will have eight new players in the starting lineup.

Suffice to say, the 2007 season is one of change for these four teams. But the goal for each largely remains the same.

"I think we have the same frame of mind as we had last year and every other year, which is to work hard and be as good as you can by the end of the year," said Mount Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer, whose team went 17-0-4 last season. "Expectations are always the same: the county, region and state championships."

Gone are strikers Mike Napolitano and Justin Martinelli, midfielder Zach Barnett and goalie Brad Carper. Linsenmeyer said he is not quite sure what to expect in the early going as he works on putting his best 11 players in the right places.

Seniors Matt Schmauder, Tom Keagle and goalie Travis Kumar will be looked upon to step up, while junior Garrett Nickles and sophomore Aidan Hoolachan also are expected to make big contributions.

"Now that the program has been going well the past four or five years, the kids understand what they need to do," Linsenmeyer said. "The kids we have now have been around a lot of good leadership in the past, so they'll model their leadership around what they've experienced from the past players. That's a great thing for our program and something we'll lean on."

At River Hill, coach Brian Song knows a gifted player like Theisen, now playing at Maryland, can't be single-handedly replaced.

"So our thinking is whether it's two players, three players or even four, whatever it takes - maybe each scoring three or four more goals than they scored last year - to make up for what Theisen brought," he said.

The Hawks won't have as much depth as last season, when each of their 19 field players had at least one goal or an assist. Song said some players who played 30 minutes last year may be asked to give 60 minutes.

"They know the bar is set high and teams will be gunning for us. And right now, the kids already have their minds set that they want to be state champs again," he said.

The Hawks will lean on seniors Erica Suter, Janie Tankard and Meg Sims to take on lead roles.

"We're not worrying about last year, just working hard and focusing on now," said Suter, who had 14 goals and 11 assists in 2006. "We have a lot of good talent left and are trying to work together the best we can. Like last year, the seniors want to leave with a state championship, and we want to lead the team to that."

At Hammond, Abbas Ebrahimnejad, Mostafa's younger brother, will provide a steadying influence to keep the Bears in the hunt.

Glenelg girls coach Dean Sheridan said he has the talent to make another strong run, and it is just a matter of the new group coming together as a team. Senior forward Larkin Nixon, a high-level club player who didn't play for the Gladiators last season, is a welcome addition.

Reclassification will factor into each of the team's success this season. Mount Hebron and River Hill move from the Class 3A East region to 2A South, joining Hammond. Glenelg, which competed in 2A South last season, will drop to 1A South.

Ahead of schedule

With nine varsity players returning from last year's 6-4 team, it was easy to understand why Long Reach football coach Pete Hughes was originally thinking his young group might be a year away.

But a strong preseason camp, sparked by the addition of some key transfers and a number of players getting their grades up to become eligible has Hughes confident the time could be now for his Lightning.

"We've been pleasantly surprised. We have good numbers, with 47 dressing for varsity, and we've got good size and speed," he said.

The Lightning has three transfers that will make an immediate impact. Senior quarterback David Upchurch, from Rhode Island, has shown a strong and accurate arm; senior running back Davon McClennon, formerly of Laurel High, will get a good share of the carries; and 6-foot-3, 330-pound junior defensive tackle Mike Franklin comes over from Paint Branch to plug the middle.

Hughes also said 6-5 senior receiver Obi Ukwuoma - a basketball standout - has caught everything in sight.

"I think the key to the season for us is to grow up quickly because we're relying on a lot of sophomores and juniors," Hughes said. "After that, it's staying healthy and just believing that we can compete with anybody in the county."

Field hockey tourney

Oakland Mills will host the inaugural PlayStrong for Life Field Hockey Tournament from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

The tournament will benefiit Muscular Dystrophy and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

The Scorpions will take on Springbrook of Montgomery County at 9 a.m., followed by Atholton vs. Annapolis at 11. The consolation game will take place at 1 p.m. with the championship set for 3.


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